The Art of the Business

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

A blog-bate! May 4, 2009

Filed under: Politics of Arts — Rebecca Coleman @ 7:32 am
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During last year’s federal election, the arts, which have traditionally gotten left by the wayside in political campaigns, were brought front and centre by a political debate focused on the arts called The Wrecking Ball. These debates took place in several major cities across the country. Our local Wrecking Ball was organized by The Alliance for Arts and Culture, and it was, in a word, inspiring.

Here in BC, we are in the throes of a Provincial election–we go to the polls on May 12. According to an article in The Georgia Straight, the arts are pretty far down on the priority list when it comes to platforms.

While both the NDP and Greens have pledged to increase arts funding, the B.C. Liberals have not. The NDP has vowed to restore the arts funding cut in 2009, increase the budget for the B.C. Arts Council, and provide a new $50-million capital fund to be administered by the B.C. Arts Council for investment in projects that “support the growth and sustainability” of professional and community arts, culture, and heritage sectors. The Green party platform calls for increasing funding to the B.C. Arts Council, establishing a separate Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage, and cooperating with other levels of government to fund an “indigenous peoples culture and arts plan for B.C.” Meanwhile, the only mention of the arts in the Liberals’ platform comes in the context of boosting tourism: “It [increasing tourism revenues] is why we established the $150-million B.C. 150 Cultural Fund and are investing $50 million in a new generation Vancouver Art Gallery.” (read the entire article here)

In an attempt to bring Arts more to the forefront, The Alliance for Arts and Culture has arrainged a debate–a virtual one:

In an innovative departure from the usual all-candidates debates, the Alliance for Arts & Culture will host a “live-blogging” forum on May 4th at 4pm with Spencer Herbert (NDP candidate), Vanessa Violini (Green Party candidate). At this point, no Liberal Party candidate has chosen to participate; however, Bill Bennett, Liberal candidate and former Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts – who cited prior commitments – will post a prepared statement on behalf of the Liberals.

You are invited to participate: visit the Alliance’s blog, and drop a question to the candidates in the comments section. Then, you can follow the debate as it is live-blogged on May 4.

The only way to make a difference is to speak out!

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The artist versus pie: which is flakier? October 11, 2008

Filed under: Business of Arts,Finances — Rebecca Coleman @ 8:35 am
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On a certain evening not so long ago, I was indulging in one of my favorite secret pleasures: a glass of wine (probably something red) and TLC’s What Not to Wear. After the show was over, another show came on, and I was curious, so I watched it. The show was called Ashley Paige: Bikini or Bust, and it followed the day-to-day adventures of this young and upcoming bikini designer.

At first I was intrigued. Here was a make-or-break story about a self-proclaimed artist (a bikini artist, but an artist nevertheless). But then it all went horribly wrong. Ashley was unable to keep up with her bills, to buy raw materials, and, in short, to manage her own business and life successfully.

I got so frustrated watching this show, because I hate it when people live up to stereotypes.

As artists, we already have a bunch of stuff going against us. We have a government (currently, hopefully that will change after Oct 14) that made $45 million in cuts to arts funding. When people ask us what we do for a living, and we say we are an actor/singer/painter/musician/bikini artist, the response is often, “but what’s your real job?” Those same qualities that make us good artists–creativity, spontaneity, thinking outside the box–if taken just a smidgen too far, can result in flakiness. And that just feeds the stereotype.

Our friend Ashley got a life coach, and was really trying to get it together, so good on her for that. But I haven’t seen the show in a while, so maybe it got cancelled. Which would be okay with me. The world doesn’t need any more fuel for that fire.

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On the topic of touchpoints September 28, 2008

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.

 

Putting a value on our work

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

 

The first post… September 27, 2008

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