Wednesday, March 30, 2011

they tell me it's spring

I've been living in California for 23 years, and drought conditions are pretty much the default setting for life here. Which, frankly, is one of the reasons I live in California. I like sun-- I have the skin damage to prove it-- I like picnics in January, I like having a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation and not worrying about getting wet or cold. However, it's been raining pretty much constantly for over a month, which sent me into a mildly depressive state that plays itself out in bitchiness and insomnia. How my husband keeps himself from hitting me over the head with a shovel and then quietly burying me in the backyard is a question for the ages.

Then, I finally hired someone to replace Ruth at the studio, which gave me a spark of hope that maybe I could start getting things done in a timely way again. This someone lasted exactly two weeks before quitting. The strange thing was, I felt this incredible sense of relief. As much as I hate running around my studio like a crazy person pumping out production stuff, I relish being alone all day. It is my preferred mode of being in general. Rather than getting all caught up in hiring the next person on my list-- over 15 people were interviewed for this job-- I called up a few people and asked if they would like to come in on an ad-hoc basis and just lend a hand when I start getting overwhelmed, or better yet, right before I start getting overwhelmed. This seems to be totally working out for the moment because these people are super excited to come in, work with me, and earn some extra money, so shit gets done. The two weeks I spent training the other person was incredibly draining-- it's clear to me now I didn't hire the right person to begin with-- and I just can't face starting that all over again right now.

So, I'm feeling perkier now. The hardest thing about depression is how useless everything feels. I've never been so depressed that I can't get out of bed, what's the point when you are just going to get back in at the end of the day kind of depression. My depression manifests itself in discontent with my work, the feeling that making pottery is the most useless thing in the world to pursue. You're just making and making, and for what? Where does it lead, where does it take you? Okay, so it's beautiful-- so what? It's not like you are saving lives. Though, sometimes, even saving lives feels especially useless. And then, I have an (almost) perfect firing, the sun comes out, and I think I'm ready to fight for another day of making pottery.

Friday, March 18, 2011

etsy lazy

I've written in the past about my struggles to keep track of my money like a responsible business owner. Like many artists and freelancers, I've been guilty of "intuitive banking"-- as long as the bank balance seems about right, everything is fine. I've mastered keeping track of my expenditures and incoming money, but my piece of shit accounting program (First Edge-- do NOT buy) is so sprawling and non-user friendly that being able to analyze this information in a useful way has been eluding me. I finally jettisoned it for Outright, an online accounting program that is basic and simple, perfect for a business like mine. It pulls information from my PayPal account, which is where most of my sales flow through, as well as my business credit card and bank account. When I sign in, it gives me a visual graph to show me exactly how much money I'm making, and how much I'm spending. Which has been very. Very. Disturbing.

All last week I was obsessed with Outright, continually signing in and going over my numbers again and again, trying to figure out what is up. How is it possible I made almost twice as much money in 2009 than I did the next year? And now 2011 is starting to look remarkably identical to 2010. I've sensed with my "intuitive banking" nose that I'm not making as much money, since my savings account has not been growing, which I attributed to the trip to Belgium and a king sized bed purchase. But no, that's not it.

The problem is something I'm calling "Etsy Lazy". Back in 2008-2009 I was still working the wholesale game, pushing my own website, doing some shows, open studios, anything to sell work. And then Etsy came along, giving me a whole new revenue stream. For me, the best thing about Etsy is how reliable it is. So reliable I started treating it like a monogamous relationship, only going out with Etsy and forgetting about other selling venues. I've stopped doing the wholesale shows, I didn't even bother with a holiday Open Studio last year, and my own website is the last thing on my list. I basically live on Etsy, and I've gotten lazy. Ver-y lazy.

I got depressed, thinking my business was dead in the water and I was going to have to become a slave to wholesale again. That lasted about a day. Then, I realized I can come up with a new plan for myself, one that makes me happy and works for me. That will require some thinking, and I'm not sure what to do yet, but I want to see those little green columns growing and the red ones shrinking.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

creating your own PR department

Not too long ago, I had a public relations meeting. It was with myself, and we drank a cup of coffee and determined that since we can't afford a PR department, it was time to get serious about doing it ourselves. Publicity is one of those things where the more you have, the more you get. The first time I received some good publicity was back in 2004, and since then I've had a steady stream of press attention. But it's always pretty random and I have to wait for it. I never know where it's coming from or when I'll get more. In this, I'm kind of like a horny high schooler with no boyfriend. The goal is to be more like a popular cheerleader type with the football team following me around.

I've seriously considered hiring a publicist for my business. I even went as far as talking to a local public relations firm that specializes in working with small, art-based businesses like mine. They named a fee so high I actually considered paying it, I thought the sum alone would have to make it worth it. The problem is, no matter how much you pay a publicist, there is no guarantee that you will get the publicity you want. We've all heard "there's no such thing as bad publicity." That's bullshit, but what the artist has to think about is worthless publicity, publicity that does not generate interest or sales, especially when you paid for it!

I'm no marketing genius, but I'm sharing the list of things that my PR department needs to work on, maybe this stuff you need to work on too:
  • Making an effective press packet: I've never had a press packet, but I've been thinking I need one since about 2002. It's a handy tool to convince editors and writers you have your shit together and ready when press comes knocking. Whether you have an actual physical press packet or a digital one, a press packet should contain:
  1. Images of your current work. Rather than have a bunch of images of everything, it should be only your best images of your best work, and be representative of your overall body of work.
  2. A clearly labeled list of the images, along with material, dimensions, price.
  3. Artist statement. Every artist needs one of these.
  4. Recent press clips, if any, including press releases.
  5. Your artist resume. I thought I didn't need a resume because I just work for myself, but a resume explains your history of accomplishments and career trajectory.
  6. A postcard and business card with ALL of your contact information.
  • Milking the press contacts: Have you ever had a bit of press before? That's your first press contact, and it never hurts to send that person an email with images of new work. I have never once sent an email to the people who have written about me, asking them for more coverage. That's ridiculous. It's even more ridiculous when I consider that I almost spent 9 months studio rent to have someone do it for me. Bringing another high school analogy back, it's like waiting around for the hot guy to ask me to prom when I can just invite him to the Sadie Hawkins dance.
  • Brand identity: The internet is choked with people who promise to help you with brand identity. The funny thing is their websites look awful, their exhortations are uninspired, and they all want money. I like this site and this site for free help, though there are paid options too. My own thoughts about brand identity are that you need to spend some time and/or money on business cards, post cards, and website so they look professional and like they are all part of the same family. Going deeper, your brand identity is also your story about who you are and why you make art. Why do you need a brand identity? Because when people buy your art, they are also buying a piece of you. Let them know who you are so that piece is more valuable.
  • Better newsletters: It took me about over a year to get into the swing of writing my blog and figuring out my "message". I still have not figured out how to make a really great newsletter, though I am making progress with my new email service which has made it super easy to make it look pretty.
Having your own personal PR department, headed and run by only yourself is the reality of most artists. Take yourself seriously enough to do some work on PR, and let me know what you've done lately or what else should be added to this list!