Many of you know Rebecca Mezoff from her blog, webinars and online workshops. If anyone knows how to work the internet to make a living through tapestry, its Rebecca. Below is an overview, written by Rebecca, about running a fiber business in the age of the internet.
Learning to run your own business takes time and frankly, some stubbornness. My journey creating and running my art and teaching business over the last ten years has not been either linear or smooth. But it has been a fun ride. And let me be clear, if you are trying to sell your own products including your art, you are running a business.
Running a business isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of effort and you have to be willing to get back up and try again after failed attempts at self-promotion. In today’s world, you’re going to have to learn something about technology.
These first two things are a requirement for running a successful business whether you’re selling your artwork or selling information or physical products.
- A website
- An email list
In 2017 I wrote an article for this blog about having a website. I’m not going to restate that information now, so if you’re stuck on the website step, take a look at this post.
This is your main business asset. The people who sign up for your mailing list are interested in you. They are asking to hear from you. This is the list of people who will be your biggest fans. They are the people who will share your stuff online, who will remember to recommend your work to their Aunt Ruth when she says, “I really would like a bit of fiber art for that corner of the dining room,” and they are the people who will be the first to purchase from you when you present the thing they’re looking for.
You should not use your personal email for your mailing list. Many email providers will not allow you to send an email to masses of people and it just isn’t good practice. To manage a mailing list effectively, you need to use a mailing list provider. The emails you send will still have your email address in the “From” field, but they will be sent through the provider. I use Mailchimp and I like it. I believe the first couple thousand addresses are completely free. Remember that these programs can be powerful assets. They can send automated emails, segment your list into people interested in particular things, and they will make you stay up to date on current regulations for how you keep people’s information.
How do you add people to your mailing list? Ask them to sign up. Make sure to put a subscribe form on your website in several places. Add a link to the bottom of your email signature. Hand people a business card with your website and ask them to sign up for your list. Then actually email people from time to time. They wanted to hear from you, so give them the latest news on a regular basis. It is important that you don’t just send a random email once every 6 months. That isn’t often enough for people to remember who you are. Business coaches recommend sending an email at least once a month if not more frequently. Tell your followers about your latest work or a show you got into. It doesn’t have to be long or fancy.
Once you have your website and email list, what is the next step in running a successful business?
Make personal connections
Many of us artists don’t like to talk to people. We love our studios and many of us are very introverted. Just chatting to people about our art makes us feel a little queasy.
I was an occupational therapist for 17 years. I was forced to go into the hospital room of many new people every single day, introduce myself and sell the magic of OT to the patient. It is the nature of healthcare that in many settings, my boss wasn’t giving me a choice about whether I saw a person or not. I was often told, you have to do therapy with that patient for X hours a day, so make it work. (As an aside, this is a big reason I don’t work in healthcare anymore.) Through that experience, I learned to come out of my introverted shell, look people in the eye, and try to connect with them even though it initially was difficult.
You have to make connections with people if you want to sell your art or products. Networking seems scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Start easy with people who are friends of friends. Trying to get a solo show at a community art gallery? Find connections there, go to coffee with people, ask for help furthering your career. Sometimes people will tell you no. Probably they will tell you no a lot because they don’t know what tapestry is. But keep trying. Be creative. The friend of a friend of a friend might be the person who connects you with that special client or venue.
Give out business cards. This may seem old school, but a printed business card should be on your person at all times. It is that time you are standing in line at Human Bean for your chai tea latte and the woman behind you asks about the tapestry patch on your handbag that you need that card. You’ve probably run out of the house in your yoga pants with a ball cap on, but make sure you have a few cards in your wallet. Make a point to give a card to anyone who expresses any interest at all in what you do. It can be very casual but it is important. You can get extremely cheap business cards from Vistaprint. I’ve also used Modern Postcard and Moo. Moo allows you to print a pack of cards with 25 different images. This is a great thing for an artist as you’ll have a tiny portfolio on you at all times.
Listen to your customers
Not sure why people aren’t buying? This may well be because you’re not listening. Figure out who your customer is and then listen to them. Sit down and think about who the people you’d like to buy your work are. Be specific. Are they people who have a certain amount of money? Do they live certain places? Are they male or female or gender non-conforming? What are they interested in? Where to do they spend their time on the internet? What else do they do where they might hear about you?
Find someone who is or could be your customer and take them to coffee. Ask them these questions. People like to talk about themselves and often they love helping you out. The sort of person you think you’re selling to might not really be the person you should be marketing to. Craft your marketing ideas around the people who are really interested in your work. They are your customers. Don’t try to make art that will sell to a particular sort of person. Make your art and find out who loves it. Then position it to be seen by those people. (Hint: this is not easy and takes a lot of trial and error… but keep trying.)
Use local resources
I have done a lot of work with my local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Some classes I’ve paid for but a lot of the advice I’ve received has been completely free. Many states have these services which are funded by the state. I’ve had help from an accountant, a social media consultant, a lawyer, and I’ve taken many classes on everything from sales taxes to hiring employees to using Quickbooks for very low cost. The people at your local SBDC can point you toward other resources you didn’t even know were important.
The internet works through links. Everything is linked to something else in one big cobweb of bits and bytes. If you are the person who set up a Wix website five years ago and you haven’t touched it since, that website isn’t doing you much good. You must keep it up to date. There is nothing that will make me click away from a website faster than realizing it hasn’t been updated in three years. Making it easy to use is also important. Make it clean and simple and make sure it is mobile enabled. A full half of my website traffic comes from mobile devices.
If you write a blog, actually write it. Don’t promote a blog that you don’t actually post to at least once a month. If you aren’t ever going to post to it again, maybe make that clear in the blog header if you leave it online or consider taking it down.
To get people to go to your website, you have to put yourself out into the world. You don’t have to write a blog, but you do have to use some kind of internet-based interaction with other people to get them to go to your website. That could be just your newsletter, but your list will grow faster if you have something to offer online. What you put online could take many different forms. Consider what you are trying to express with your artwork and who you are wanting to see it when deciding where to put your energy. Then think about where your customers might see it. Can you put some energy into a local art coop or gallery which might include advertising about you for free? Do you spend time on social media and could you include interesting information about your work there? What community resources are you missing around you? What larger organizations could help you find your audience?
A note on regulations
If you’re running a business, there are regulations you must follow. In the USA, you probably have to register your business as a sole proprietorship with the Secretary of State of your state. This usually doesn’t cost much, but you need to keep it up to date every year. You will need to figure out how to charge and remit sales tax in your city, county, and state. This is more complicated in some states than others and if you have an accountant, they can help you with it. And you’ll need to figure out how to pay estimated taxes to your state and the IRS if you live in the USA. Your local small business development center or your accountant can be immensely helpful in learning about the regulations for your state or country. Get some help. It is worth it.
Rebecca Mezoff runs an online tapestry business teaching people all over the world how to weave tapestry. She also teaches in-person tapestry retreats that she arranges and promotes herself. When she isn’t teaching, she is weaving and you can find more about her work and teaching on her website and blog at www.tapestryweaving.com.