The Art of the Business

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

Welcome to the blogosphere September 28, 2008

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…

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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…

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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.