The Art of the Business

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

No Starving Artists August 20, 2010

Filed under: Attitude,Business of Arts,Cash flow,Finances,interview,Success — Rebecca Coleman @ 6:32 am
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A little while back, I was having an email conversation with my friend Paul. Now, I’ve known Paul since the time we shared a tent at a cabin on Mayne Island during our younger days, but in the past few years, I have become very proud of his accomplishments.

Paul, a former Registered Massage Therapist, started a business where he sells well-researched and written articles to folks who are trying to take more responsibility for their health. His business is called SaveYourself.ca, and it’s doing pretty well. So well, in fact, that Paul retired from the massage business as of January 1, 2010, and now writes for a living.

Our discussion was around getting paid to write. After all, if we are writers, don’t we get intrinsic value from writing? So should we always be getting paid for it?

Paul’s response stopped me in my tracks:

“Cold hard cash” value has been waaaay more satisfying for me than the “intrinsic” value thing (which I did in an impoverished way for 15 years). I’m particularly fond of the cash-generating approach since it’s now inevitable that I will soon be able to turn my attention to full-time creative writing.

Plus I found subject matter that I find personally interesting AND profitable to write about. 😉 That’s probably the real win: I wouldn’t be happy just writing anything I could sell. The challenge is to focus the writing on something that is both relevant to your bottom line AND your heart.

I asked him if we could continue the conversation for you, on my blog, and he said yes.

RC: For me, this whole debate we’ve been having is about values. The value of money versus the value of artistic expression/creativity. We live, as artists, in a world that believes that choosing the artistic or creative lifestyle means also choosing a life of poverty. Even more so, if you do become successful as an artist, you are often branded as a “sell out.” However, I would like to believe that I can be artistically fulfilled, and not have to live in a hovel and eat Kraft Dinner every day. Call me crazy. What are your thoughts on this?

PI: Life’s a tough place. A lot of humans don’t have clean water or a life expectancy much better than a poodle’s. I really believe that the idealistic artist lifestyle — both rewarding and remunerated — is a fantasy. It’s a healthy fantasy, but just an impossible goal for most people, even in rich nations.

It’s not just “the world” that believes that doing art means surviving on Kraft dinner: a whole lot of impoverished artists believe it too. I know dozens of impoverished artists, and many who quit because of it. And of the few successful artists I know, most are successful in large part because they had some major economic advantage to start with. It’s a hell of a lot easier to write a great book when you don’t have to worry about paying the rent!

It’s not impossible to make art pay, of course, just terribly difficult. Any individual artist has the potential to pull it off. But the pie is just not large enough for all of us, and most will fail to get more than a nibble. The few who start poor but get a satisfying bite in the end have got some serious game: not just craft, but exceptional perseverance and business savvy. And nearly all of them compromise.

In short, nearly all rags-to-riches artist success stories are achieved by diluting the purity of a dream with smart compromises and entrepreneurship. That’s certainly my story.

RC: Okay, I’ll bite. What’s your story?

PI: I guess I have a “success” story, which I’m starting to enjoy and still getting used to.

I started out as a creative writer, but I got weary of poverty and decided to get more entrepreneurial and started picking projects with some profit potential. About six years later, I write almost exclusively about health science (in a creative way), and I publish online and make a decent living selling e-book guides for patients about common pain problems. But the amount of money is not the best part. What really makes it a success story is the residuals. I have an stable and unusually passive income — my ebooks sell automatically, with basically no day-to-day work required. I’m not in a high tax bracket, but I have more income security than a Hollywood divorce lawyer, and more holidays. With a little updating now and then, my books will pay my rent for the rest of my life.

So I’m not yet 40, but I actually don’t really have to work any more. Sure, I’m still pounding away at my business, but mainly because I like it and I want to buy a few more toys, and maybe a house someday.

RC: Is what I’m hearing you say is, find a way to make your art business profitable, commercial? And then do the “fine” art, whatever that is, for yourself?

PI: I don’t really want to do “fine” art and creative writing “for me” — I want to do it for an audience. I want to succeed as an idealistic artist just as much as I did when I was 18, gunning for commercial success and critical acclaim. The difference is that now I can afford to pour myself into writing novels and short stories, thanks to the compromises I’ve made for the last ten years — which just don’t feel much like compromises now that they’ve paid off!

Should every artist do it this way? Probably not. There’s wiggle room depending on your goals and how much Kraft dinner you can stand eating. If you can you live with the odds being seriously stacked against you, then great, take that “high” road.

But few artists are really up for that. Most want to eat better and have a robust career. If that’s what you want, find the common ground between idealistic goals and what’s actually marketable and practical. Do that vend diagram! And then get to work in the overlap. Most artists won’t do it because entrepreneurship is too alien, because the compromises seem too extreme, and the pay-off is too distant. But that’s just what it takes … and the alternative is to NEVER have the time or resources to do what you really want to do.

RC: Thanks, Paul!

Both Paul and I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Go!

Paul Ingraham blogs sassily about pain and injury science at SaveYourself.ca (twitter, facebook). A former Registered Massage Therapist, he now calls himself a science journalist. Most of his passive income comes from a pair of best-selling ebooks, one about muscle knots (trigger points), and the other about a nasty knee problem that runners get, iliotibial band syndrome. It’s worth visiting those pages just to see an example of a profitable ebook presentation. Paul works in a downtown Vancouver home office with his wife and an editor cat.

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Interview: Ingrid Torrance, author of ACT! April 30, 2010

I wish there had been something like this when I was getting started as an actor….

I met Ingrid Torrance the other day at Biz Books when Cat asked me to come down and shoot some interviews with her. Ingrid, you see, has written a book, and Biz is hosting the launch party. The book is called ACT! A Step by Step Guide to Starting your Acting Career. I immediately recognized Ingrid as a kindred spirit (she’s writing about the business!), and asked her if I could do an interview for my blog.

RC: Tell us about ACT! Who exactly is this book for?

IT: Act! is for anyone of any age who is interested in becoming an actor as well as those have are already begun. If getting an agent, finding a class or coach, writing a letter to an agent, doing up an industry-friendly resume, auditioning, confidence or what your hit is; are questions you have, then Act! is for you.

I also think this is a great book for parents who want to get their children (of any age) into the industry because it gives them answers to where to go and how to start. An understanding of the business of acting will help everyone!

RC: Anyone who’s an actor probably has had lots of people ask them “how do you get started?” Why did you decide to write a book about it?

IT: I decided to write Act! for 2 reasons. First, I always have people asking how they can start out in acting and because I love the industry so much and have had a lot of good fortune in acting, I always want to help as much as possible; second, the students I teach would always want coaching with photographers for headshots, finding an agent, writing a letter, resume… and I thought, wow, there’s a lot of people needing this information, someone should write it down!! Then it occurred to me that I love writing, I have the personal experience of 16 plus years as an actor and as an acting teacher; maybe I should write it down!!

RC: Who is Ingrid Torrance?

IT: Ingrid Torrance; actor, coach, producer, director and author has appeared in numerous movies and television series since 1994. She has also been an acting teacher since 1995 and an on set and off set coach since 1998. Ingrid has worked on such shows as Andromeda, Smallville, The Outer Limits, Blade: The Series, Stargate SG-1, The 4400 and Higher Ground. She has appeared in such films as Double Jeopardy, Act of War, Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, The Auburn Hills Breakdown, and Driven to Kill. Ingrid has been nominated for a Leo Award as Best Actress and was featured in Entertainment Weekly as a “Breakout” Actress. Ingrid has coached many actors for both performance and dialogue, such as Karina Lombard (of The 4400, Legends of the Fall), Cameron Bright (of New Moon, 11:11, Birth), Devan Sawa (of Final Destination), Greyson Golka for Men in Trees and Cheng Pei Pei, Henry O for They Wait.

RC: Who is Ingrid Torrance, really?

IT: I’m actually a hermit; I know, no one ever believes me when I say this. I spend a lot of time on my own and I’m quite shy. I come out of my shell when I’m doing something that I feel I do well or something that I really believe in, so acting is kind of a funny choice and in fact this personality trait comes out in my work too; if auditioning for something I don’t feel I do well, I can often get very shy about it. Something I’ve had to work on because you’re always faced with different roles and you can’t always pick and choose the roles you think are right for you. It’s been, and continues to be an interesting journey; and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

RC: So many of us (and I am often in this category) just want to make our art. We just want to act/paint/play the piano. Why do we have to deal with the business? Can’t we just get an agent or a manager to manage that stuff for us?

IT: I believe you need to embrace the reality of any craft, which includes understanding that there is a business side to any craft. With all the viral media out there, I think a personal touch is important; people want to hear from the artist directly, to have access to that person. Once you start, it’s really easy to keep it up and I look at it as a celebration of my work; you can take it or leave it, but if I don’t celebrate it, how can anyone else celebrate it. I’m sure everyone has the experience of someone’s work; painting, writing, performance, song, dance etc, having made a difference or impact on your life somehow, if it wasn’t made available to the public, then it couldn’t have made a difference to someone else. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your talent, your art, with the world; it doesn’t make it less wonderful or creative.

RC: Can you share with us three tips for actors starting out?

IT: 1) Find a class that’s right for you; know what you’re after, (scene study, improv, audition, theater training…) and find that type of class; find a teacher that you connect with who teaches in a way that works for you; audit, audit, audit those classes before you sign up!

2) Believe in yourself! No one is going to believe in you until you do! You can effect so many things; the way you approach something, the way people view you; even the energy in a room, all with your belief in yourself. As an actor, you need to be strong, you need to believe in yourself and you need to know why you’re doing it because there are a lot of “no’s” in the industry, you need to be the yes!

3) Learn about the industry; watch movies, read trade magazines, read plays, read scripts; know the industry!

You can buy a copy of Ingrid’s book, ACT! A Step by Step Guide to Starting Your Acting Career at Biz Books, and you meet her in person at the book launch there on May 13, 6-8 pm.

Check out a video I made for Ingrid here.

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My Makeover March 24, 2010

Filed under: Attitude,Musings,Perception of worth,photos,Success — Rebecca Coleman @ 6:17 am
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I have a shameful secret. Because I work from home, and no one sees me when I’m behind my computer, I look like this:

My daily routine is the same: roll out of bed, pull on something made by Lululemon, make coffee, open the computer, get to work. It doesn’t matter what I look like, because no one is going to see me.

Now, when it comes to meeting clients or going out in public, I’m a bit better. I’ll throw on some jeans, or a clean shirt. Or even dress pants and a nice, white blouse. But over all, my dress is casual. I argue I can get away with it, because my business is pretty casual. And it takes a lot of time to do hair, makeup and pull together a nice outfit. And people are hiring me for my brain and my track record, not because of how I look. And sometimes heels are uncomfortable if I have to walk a long way, and I’m just going to pick up Michael at school, anyway….  The rationalizations go on and on.

I’m an avid fan of TLC’s What Not to Wear, and one night when I was watching, Clinton Kelly said “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my job, and despite the advice of my business adviser, am not even looking for corporate clients. If I can make a living in the arts, I’m happy. But I am a business-owner, and maybe it’s time I start dressing the part. And if I do, what will happen? Will new or potential clients look at me and view me as having a higher perception of worth? And how will my own perception of worth change? I feel different about myself when I dress up–more confident–how does a confident attitude affect my work?

I love to shop, but I am also hopeless, and I had no idea where to start. So, I hired Jasjit Rai, who is a stylist and wardrobe consultant. Jasjit says, “as in theatre, it is important to dress the part(s) that you want to play in your life.  Clothing is an easy and immediate way of transforming yourself. This is why uniforms are so important in some professions – once worn, they draw the person into the role. Others immediately respond in return.” She came over to my house and did a wardrobe audit. A bunch of stuff went. Then, she gave me a list of stuff to go shop for, including tear sheets from magazines with photos.

The result?

Photo by Pink Monkey Studios

I’m still trying to get comfortable with this new concept: spending money on clothes still seems a little frivolous to me, and I also feel a bit resentful that people might judge me on how I look. But the reality is, people do make snap judgments when they meet you. I might as well  put my best foot forward. And I’ll let you know if land any high-paying clients, or if my income goes up dramatically.

If you are interested in having your own makeover, I highly reccomend Jasjit’s services.

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The power of just showing up March 10, 2010

Filed under: Attitude,Blogging,Future planning,social media — Rebecca Coleman @ 8:07 am
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Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a past career, I was an employment counsellor. I would meet with people who were unemployed and looking for work, and help them to spruce up their resume, apply for jobs, or refer them to programs that could help them find work.

I remember one client particularly. She was in the film industry, so we saw her every few months. She had a computer and internet connection at home, so there was really no reason for her to come in and use our resource centre. But yet, like clockwork, every few months, she’d show up at our door, and be looking for work.

Many years ago, I read a book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. Now, Frankl was a Jewish psychologist in pre-Nazi Austria, Vienna to be exact. In 1942, he, like many other Jews, was sent to a concentration camp, along with his wife and parents. By all reports, I can’t imagine a more horrifying or black place to be. And yet, he talks in his book about getting up every morning and shaving himself with a piece of glass. This symbolic gesture of getting ready for the day was psychological preparation, and it worked. Frankl survived the concentration camp–the rest of his family did not.

I know that looking for a job or writing a blog is not nearly the same kind of life-or-death stakes that Frankl faced every day in that camp. But the principle remains the same: the people that got up every day, put on some decent clothes, and showed up at my work every day at 9:30 had a much higher chance of getting a job than those that rolled in at 1 pm in crumpled jeans after sleeping in until noon.

Writing a blog works on the same principle: if you commit to a schedule and stick to it, I promise you will see results. Will every post you write be a gold-medal winner (sorry, the Olympics are kinda dominating things in Vancouver, right now!)? Nope, certainly not. But by writing sheer quantity, you are bound to create some posts of quality. And the more you do it, the better you get…

This image was originally posted to Flickr by chokola at http://flickr.com/photos/22671579@N00/1229450683

And then, sometime around the three-week mark, something magical happens. It stops being more of a chore, and just becomes another thing that you do in your day. It incorporates itself into your life.

So grab yourself a calendar, decide how many posts you want to do per week, and then schedule them on your calendar. Go so far as to write what the topic of each of those posts will be. Set an alarm if you need to. Then write.

Just showing up will give you results–I guarantee it.

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Would you rather be Peet’s or Starbucks? March 1, 2010

It’s no secret that I’m a coffee addict. I simply can’t start my day without a decent coffee: an Americano Misto is my drink of choice. And, like many adults, my tastes are refining as I get older–I can no longer drink just any old slop–it has to be good, or I’m not satisfied (with the exception of Tim Horton’s, which gets my sentimental vote, as I grew up on it).

Many, many years ago, I was introduced to Peet’s Coffee by my high school english teacher and mentor, Art Griffin. Art would buy, and have his beans shipped from the States to Newfoundland, because that’s how much he loved the coffee. He told me the story of Peet’s.

Back in the ’60s, a hippie in Berkley named Alfred Peet started a coffee shop. Peet came from a coffee family, and when he opened his store, he roasted his beans on site. In 1971, some of his friends, English teacher Jerry Baldwin, history teacher Zev Siegel, and writer Gordon Bowker, decided to use his beans to open their own coffee shop in Pike Place Market in Seattle. They called it Starbucks.

About 10 or so years later, a guy named Howard Schultz came along. It was his idea to begin selling already-brewed coffee, not just beans, in Starbucks.

According to my teacher, Peet had an opportunity at this point to either continue in business with Baldwin, Siegel, Bowker and Schultz, but he chose not to.

The rest, as they say, is, ahem, history. Starbucks currently runs 16,634 stores in 49 countries around the world, and Peet’s operates almost 200 retail outlets, primarily in the western United States.

Ah, but here’s the rub: if you put a cup of Peet’s in front of me, and cup of Starbucks, and asked me to choose, Peet’s would win every time. I recently came back from Seattle with a pound of Sumatra, and I get some every time I go. To me, Starbuck’s coffee tastes burnt and acidic, and their mixed creations are way too sweet. I had a supreme Raspberry Mocha at Peet’s, which tasted like raspberries, chocolate and coffee, not too sweet.

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t think it’s possible to maintain quality across such a big board. With fewer stores, it’s easier to maintain your brand’s quality, although feel free to argue with me.

For sure, we all dream about becoming stinkingly rich and spending the rest of our days on our private yacht in the Mediterranean (or whatever your version of that is). But for me, I think I’m too much of a perfectionist to allow my name to be attached to something that was less-than-stellar quality.

So, I’d rather be Peet’s any day.

Please discuss over a cup of your favorite coffee.

http://www.daleisphere.com/the-intertwined-history-of-peets-and-starbucks/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starbucks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peet%27s_Coffee_and_Tea

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Failing in an upwards direction July 1, 2009

Filed under: Attitude,Success — Rebecca Coleman @ 6:29 am
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I’ve been thinking about failure a lot lately.

Falling up stairs?

Falling up stairs?

Yes, yes, before all of you positive thinkers jump all over me with your law of attraction stuff, just hear me out.

I’m a fairly-well educated, reasonably intelligent person. However, at this point in my life, it’s tricky for me to learn in a formal way (like attending classes). That leaves me a couple of methods for learning new things: books, the internet, and failure.

At any given time, I’m usually reading a couple of books. I really got a lot out of The Four Hour Workweek, and I’m halfway through The E-Myth. Next will probably be Nichecraft.

The problem with books, is, they take a while to write and get published. And by the time they are published, things could have changed, especially in this crazily-fast-paced internet world. So, a great deal of my learning takes place these days online. E-books, e-courses, and a Google Reader full of great RSS feeds like CopyBlogger, TwitTips, and IttyBiz.

That leaves failure.

If you’re willing, failure can be your greatest teacher. Okay, so you screwed up. Intentionally or not, what went wrong? How can you change it so that it doesn’t happen the next time? Maybe that won’t work, either, but keep trying until you get it right.

This guy, Albert Einstien (famous for his hairstyle),  once defined insanity as: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I understand he may have known something about failure. And success. And most importantly, success through failure.

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Goofing off June 26, 2009

Filed under: Attitude,Life,Planning — Rebecca Coleman @ 12:05 am
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DSC_0275Yesterday, my son graduated from Kindergarten. Beside the excitement of having a son who is going into grade one, I’m also super jazzed that it’s summer vacation. I have often complained that his teachers spend more of his waking hours with him than I do, but summer vacation is going to change all that.

I work pretty hard. I have natural tendencies towards workaholism, plus I take the responsibility of running my own business pretty seriously. If I screw up and one of my clients is not happy, it could have deep and long-lasting effects on my future, as I rely heavily on word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business. So, I drive myself pretty hard when I have active contracts.

Because I’m a single parent with a young child (now out of school), it’s been necessary to plan ahead, and am pretty much taking the summer off. Oh, I still have a few things I have to take care of, but the plan is to spend as much time as possible with Michael, camping, hanging out at the pool, the park, and the beach. Oh–I also have a two-week trip to Greece planned (it’s in celebration of my 40th birthday!).

Here’s the thing: something’s gotta give. A couple of months ago, I found myself feeling pretty burnt out. The hours were taking their toll. I strive all the time for that elusive balance between my work and my life.

How about you? You’re looking a little stressed. Need permission to goof off and take the dog to the park? You got it. Cut out of work early and take a picnic to the beach? Go for it.

Oh–and one last thing: posts may become more sporratic over the next couple of months. I hope you’ll forgive me if the last thing on my mind is writing a blog post while I’m lying on a beach in Naxos (and yes, I did say that because I wanted to make you just a little bit jealous!).

For some more advice on goofing off, check out this recent post by Trilby Jeeves.

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