The Art of the Business

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

“Crowdsourcing” Your Next Production October 8, 2010

Crowdsourcing is not a new concept.

According to Wikipedia, Crowd Sourcing is

the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.

The term has become popular with businesses, authors, and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals.

Basically, artists, in these days of dwindling funding, are turning to crowdsourcing as an option to fund their projects. Crowdsourcing engines like Kickstarter are based on the concept that many small donations can add up to a lot of money. People pledge what they can, and ONLY if the project meets its entire goal within a specified time frame, does the company get all the money. If they don’t make their goal, no one donates.

I’ve been interested in exploring this idea as a funding concept, but crowdsourcing engines like Kickstarter in the States or Fundbreak in Australia have not been available in Canada until recently. A new crowdsourcing engine called IdeaVibes has just come online.

I recently interviewed Kathryn Jones, a #2amt colleague from NYC. They have recently hit their goal with Kickstarter, and are moving on to produce their project.

RC: Can you tell me a bit about your project?

KJ: Better Left Unsaid is the first of its kind, interactive live streamed play.  A cross between a play, an online video and a live streamed event, Better Left Unsaid will be shot with multiple cameras, mixed in real time, and streamed live to the internet so that anyone, anywhere in the world with a computer can watch the show and interact with it.

The play itself is  a complex roadmap of a play that begins in Central Park on a strangely warm, foggy day in November. We follow eight characters as their paths twist and turn in unexpected ways. Better Left Unsaid is a story about how our lives are affected by the pieces of information that we choose to withhold from the people we love. Sometimes the same secret that protects one person damages another.

Better Left Unsaid.  8 LIves.  8 Secrets.  How well do you know the people that you love?

RC: Why did you decide to go the Kickstarter route to get it produced?

KJ: I have been working in online video and social media for more than four years so I have been aware of Kickstarter since the time that it launched although initially projects seemed to be raising a few thousand dollars.  I thought the idea was wonderful, but the projects I was developing required more money than it seemed feasible to raise on Kickstarter.  This  past spring, however, I noticed that people were  beginning to raise significant amounts of money on Kickstarter.  When Joey and I began discussing live streaming her play Better Left Unsaid- using Kickstarter seemed like a great way to initiate our fundraising campaign.

RC: How does using a crowdsourcing engine like Kickstarter affect the amount of work you have to do to fundraise? Does it make it easier, or harder?

KJ: Fundraising is a ton of work and crowd sourcing didn’t lighten the load, but it did provide a platform from which to launch our campaign and stay in touch with our backers.  In addition, Kickstarter’s all or nothing policy added a level of urgency to our campaign and ignited our audience with a certain level of suspense as to whether or not we would make it or not. There were a lot of people checking our Kickstarter page the last few days to see how we were doing, and a few even upped their donations as the campaign neared it’s deadline.  While I don’t think we could have possibly have raised so much money in such a short period of time without Kickstarter, as the deadline to our campaign approached fundraising is basically all we did, day and night!

RC: What kind of “marketing” materials did you create for your Kickstarter campaign?

KJ: The first thing we did was build a web site so that people who visited us on Kickstarter could get more information if they wanted it.  Then we built our facebook fan page to which we add content on a pretty regular basis.  Then we created a video for our kickstarter campaign.  We also created a press release and a one sheet- and used all of these materials in various ways as our campaign progressed.

Our video is also on youtube, and can be found here…

RC: To what do you attribute your successful campaign?

KJ: I can’t point to any one thing that made our campaign successful, except for our determination!  We used every tool (except for snail mail) at our disposal, from  twitter, to personal facebook profiles, to our facebook fan page, to facebook notes, to facebook events, to phone calls, to personal emails, to mass emails, to a fund raising event at my partners house (we consolidated the donations and had one person contribute the money to our kickstarter campaign) to networking and one on one drinks.  No one method was a silver bullet.

Even when it started to feel impossible, we would go back to our kickstarter page and see that 40, then 70 then 100 then 120 people had backed us and we were determined not to let all those people down, until finally we closed with 161 backers.

RC: Thanks, Kathryn! Very exciting project–keep us in the loop of when the project airs, and we’ll be watching!

I have an interview request into IdeaVibes, but at the time of publiciation, they hadn’t yet responded to my questions. Perhaps for a future blog post.

H/T to Kate Foy.

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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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Fewer clicks=more sales June 21, 2010

Let’s face it, we’re busy. Even more busy than ever, it seems, these days. Just when I think I can’t get any busier, I surprise myself.

What that means, is, if I am able to do something quickly and efficiently, I’m going to do that. When Simon and I give workshops, we call this making it stupid easy. Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that people are dumb. In fact, they are just busy. And you know as well as I do that if you have tried to do something online, and it took more time than you thought, or was more difficult than you thought, you likely gave up in a short amount of time.

For me, the power of social media, and the argument for having multiple social media streams (ie: a blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube), is that you meet people where they are. If my favorite social medium is Facebook, I should be able to access your company there. If it’s Twitter, ditto. It’s easy.

It therefore makes sense to me, that if we can make buying tickets really, really easy, that we may sell more of them. Which is why most theatre companies these days have multiple ways of buying tickets: by phone, on line, or in person. Folks can pick the method that works best for them.

Some companies are now developing applications to make tickets available though social media applications. For example, when Disney recently released Toy Story 3, you could buy them directly through Facebook.

Cosmetics giant Avon recently introduced a Facebook-based store for thier “younger” brand, Mark. They did this through a new app that is being developed by a San Fransisco-based company called Payvment.

As of this moment, I can’t find any theatre companies that are selling tickets through their Facebook page, but I’m thinking it’s not far away.

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What’s your Facebook Page Worth? May 21, 2010

Yeah, yeah, social media this, social media that. Easy for you to say, right? But does it sell tickets/paintings/CDs?

I still can’t prove the direct correlation all the time. No one can. But I wanted to share with you a new tool that has just come out that puts and actual dollar value on your Facebook page.

Using the valuation of 1 fan=$3.70 in real money, the lovely people at Vitrue created this social media evaluator.

Here’s mine:

My fan page is an asset worth $356 annually, but it has the potential to be worth nearly $1000. You can take some measures to make this happen: adding more fans, and creating more fan interactions, for example.

I was curious to compare my little fan page with one that was really big, so I ran the evaluator on the Sex and the City (come on, May 27!) page. Here is the result:

Interesting, hey?

Try yours.

Caveat: this ONLY works on Fan pages, not groups or personal profiles. Also, your fan page’s settings need to be as open as possible, and not restricted in any way by age or country.

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Outsourcing March 22, 2010

Filed under: Business of Arts,Cash flow,Finances,Future planning,Planning — Rebecca Coleman @ 6:40 am
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As artists in business, we are a one-person show, and we wear a lot of hats. Not only are responsible for the greatest bulk of our work, namely creating our art, but we are also responsible for the business and marketing of that work.

I talk to so many artists that say “I just want to do my work. I want someone else to handle the business.”

Realistically, you need to know how to manage your business, for a couple of different reasons. First of all, as you are just starting out, you probably don’t generate enough income to be able to pay someone to manage your business. Secondly, even if you did, many, many artists have been ripped off by unscrupulous people who recognize that the artist is willing to hand everything over and fully trust them. In order for you to not be in that kind of a position, you need to know enough about your business, and be involved enough in your business to recognize when something like this might be taking place.

So, certainly you need to have some basic knowledge in legal matters, bookkeeping and accounting, and marketing. However, at some point, you will no doubt want to outsource some of your business.

You’ll know you’re ready for this when:

1. You feel like you are able to do some of the basics, but you know that you’d be over your head if you attempted to go deeper. A good example of this is creating a website: you might have a clear idea about what you want on it and how you want it to look, but you don’t possess the technical skills to build it. Another great example is getting your taxes done by an accountant.
2. You know how to do something, but it takes you longer to do that an expert could do it, and you feel like your time is more valuable spent elsewhere. An example from my business is that I upload information about my client’s shows to certain event websites in Vancouver. Honestly, I hate this task. It’s repetitive and boring, but it’s a part of my contract, so I need to do it. I outsource this task, because my time is better spent contacting and pitching to the media and trying to get my clients preview and review articles.

I would love to hear what kinds of tasks you outsource from your business, and why. Please share!

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What’s your perception of value? Pt 2 March 19, 2010

A few years back, I had an eye-opening experience around money. I had an interview to be hired by a small social-profit corporation to to marketing and PR for them for a summer. I got the interview via my network, so these people didn’t know me at all. I did some research around what I should charge, and when they asked me what my rate was, I said, without hesitation, and with some confidence, “$30 to $50 an hour,” which seemed like a huge sum of money to me at the time. And you know what, they didn’t even blink. I got the job, and it paid for a trip to Europe that fall.

A week ago, I put up a post about how people perceive our value, and more importantly, about how we perceive our own value. I was starting to feel out of my depth, but handily, I have a money coach in my network, so I turned to her.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Shell Tain:

RC: If I’m just getting started, how do I know how much to charge for my work?

ST: Well, if I’m just starting out, how much to charge is partially a math question, but it’s never solely a math question. There is some research to be done about what other people charge who are doing what I want to do, and what is the range of charges for this in my geographic community. That’s the math part. Even more important, whether new to the game or an old hand, is creating enough commitment with the charge that someone really shows up. What is the amount that has the client have something at stake, but not freaked out? I once had a couple of very wealthy clients. My normal fee just wasn’t even the cost of lunch for them. They didn’t show up. Where is that tipping point? You always have to experiment to find it, but it’s worth finding.

On the emotional side, money isn’t just about money, it’s about self worth. Yep, self worth. So, somehow I get tangled in that the client is buying me, and putting a value on me, and gosh what does that bring up? So there we are, tangled up when we are asked how much we charge. Here’s an alternative perspective: they actually aren’t buying you, or even what you do, they are buying the results. They are buying how something will be different, better, or complete once you have done what you do. So that’s worth something to them. And it’s something they can’t easily do themselves, or they would have.

So, here’s the technique.

Once you have figured out what the charge is, get your brain firmly around it so it’s easy to say. Then, when the potential customer asks for the fee, state it, clearly, without back tracking and then, (this is the most important part) SHUT UP! Stop talking. Let the silence be there, awkward as it may be. See what they say. Don’t anticipate; don’t make up objections for them. See what they say. They might actually say something like “fine”. They might say “Gee that’s expensive” to which you could say “yes, and it’s worth it”. They might say “I can’t afford that” to which you say “I understand, and what would it be like for you to have the work done?” What you do not do is discount your fees, collude with them about finding the money to pay for it, or add things on. You want them to understand the value. Pushing back on the fee can mean they don’t see the value. It can also mean they just like to bargain.

RC: But what if I loose the customer entirely, because I wasn’t willing to negotiate the fees?

ST: Let me answer an even more important question than “what if you lose the potential customer”, that is “what if I get the customer by lowering my fees?” What’s the cost of that? Well that hard teacher, Experience, has shown me and many of my clients that the costs of discounting fees are many. One really challenging one is that it diminishes your credibility with the customer. That shows up by them criticizing your choices and micro managing you. Another cost is that by dealing with this customer for less money, you aren’t available to the customer who would pay your full fee. And yet another is that if other potential customers find out you discounted they will either want a discount too, of feel foolish for having paid your full fee. What a tangled web this can be. If the idea of standing firm on your price still just drives you crazy I suggest that you create a “one time” special package for some multiple units of whatever you sell. You can offer this to everyone, and limit how long it goes on.

RC: Last words of advice?

ST: You deserve to be paid well, and if you are underpaid, or worse yet, give away your time and expertise, you will resent it. And if you resent it, you are likely to not do as good a job. All that just creates a never ending cycle. Remember, you do well what they can’t, don’t want to, or find harder to do than you. What a gift you bring.

(more…)

 

Your perception of value March 8, 2010

Money.

It’s been a trending topic in my own personal blogosphere, lately.

First there was John McLauglan talking about Firing some of his Customers.

Then Nancy Kenny asked me for some advice about valuing her new service, and wrote about that experience in a post called The Value of Me

That post lead Michael Di Lauro to riff on The Perception of Free.

The second blog post I ever wrote was called Putting a Value on Your Work. In it, I talked about the fallacy of “The Starving Artist,” and how, just because we are lucky enough as artists to have found a career that we love, it’s not okay for us to work for free. Here’s an excerpt: (I feel weird excerpting myself, but at least I don’t have to worry about copyright!)

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’ll be honest with you: I sometimes turn down contracts, because they can’t afford to pay what I perceive as being enough. I have some bottom-line pricing–while I have a standard rate I charge for my work, I am willing to negotiate, but not below a certain number. When I first started this crazy business two years ago, I basically took any contract that was offered to me, but no more. It isn’t enough any more for me to just be working. I have to be working and making a living, or even a living plus a little bit more….

What changed over the past two years? I have gotten better at my job, my media contacts are stronger than ever, and I have systems in place that make it easier for me to run my business. I’ve had a fair amount of success at getting my clients media coverage. Generally speaking, it all comes down to confidence.

It’s natural to feel apprehensive about setting a rate when you are just starting out. My Putting a Value on Your Work blog post talks about ways that you can come up with that number, and having that information can help you to educate your client about why you charge that particular amount. Ultimately, you have the power to negotiate, and you alone know what your bottom-line number is. My philosophy is, go into any negotiation with three numbers in mind: your top price, your bottom line, and what you would be happy with (which is somewhere in between). Go in with confidence (even if you don’t really have it, fake it), and pitch a price that is in the higher range. And then take it from there…

Because if you don’t value the work that you do, then who will?

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