It’s been 3-and-a-little-bit years now that I have been doing this gig as a full-time artist instead of trying to squeeze in some art around a full-time job. There are a lot of things about it that I love and I am feeling like my system (Etsy + teaching + exhibiting/grant projects) is working for me and my little business is keeping me busy and sustaining itself. Let’s be honest, I am not making enough to retire on, but I am making enough to not need to wonder if I need to be out job hunting because I need the steady paycheck.
But one of the big surprises for me in this journey is realizing just how much of my time I spend marketing myself. (Spoiler alert: It’s way more time than I spend making art.)
The idea of going to a cocktail party and having to make small talk with people I don’t know is about the most horrible way I can think of to spend an evening. I hesitate to fall into the introvert/extrovert cliché, but I absolutely don’t enjoy social gatherings meant for networking. I would rather stay home and scrub the bathroom, seriously. But I have realized that as an independent artist, I pretty much need to spend some part of every week (probably more realistically, every day) in interacting with somebody I don’t know and telling them about me. Posting something to Instagram. Writing an engaging post on Facebook. Remembering to tweet something. Writing something thoughtful for my blog. Adding something to my Etsy shop. Planning out a newsletter. Going to a meeting. Pitching a new class. It’s like a series of tiny little cocktail parties looking for someone who’d like to chat. Every day.
Because the only way I get to DO projects/classes/sales is by connecting with someone and getting my stuff in front of them.
According to all of the marketing gurus and “10 steps to being a successful artist” posts out there, I am pretty much doing all of the right things. I have an email list. I have an up-to-date website. I post on social media as much as I can stand to. I co-wrote a book. It’s even ranked #15 on Amazon’s best seller list for Books > Crafts, Hobbies & Home > Crafts & Hobbies > Needlecrafts & Textile Crafts > Fiber Arts & Textiles. (Which sounds more impressive than it is, I think.) I do the rounds of local shows and have taught at a bunch of national fiber art conferences. I’m doing the stuff I am supposed to be doing. (I’m not always doing it great, but I am doing it.)
There is a marketing tenant that says that 80% of your social media presence should be “lifestyle”. Things that are related to the brand you want to convey but aren’t all all “me me ME!” posts. People get bored with “buy my thing” posts all the time, so you have to engage them in other ways. I totally get that. I unfollow accounts that are constant sales announcements and I bet you do too. But there is also another marketing rule that says you have to get your stuff in front of people 7 times before it makes an impact. ie. You would have to see my zipper bags on Instagram seven times before you would be motivated to do something (click through, buy one, share it or whatever) If we do the math on all of that quick, that means I need to post 28 things that are not zipper bags (and not necessarily about me but about the lifestyle) for every 7 posts that are that zipper bag. I am just exhausted typing that sentence.
Instagram and Facebook have also recently tweaked their algorithms for what posts you get to see as a follower of someone. Both are favoring posts that generate interactions. Instagram even goes so far to say “meaningful interactions”, which means a comment of more than 4 words and not just “great post!” or “love it!” You have to actually type a complete sentence. On average when I post something, only about 20% of my followers see it. I think. (It’s difficult to track down a real number and understand what all of the stats are really telling you.) And according to the new Instagram info, if the 20% of the people that see that post don’t interact with it, the algorithm won’t bother to show it to the rest of you. Don’t you love algorithms?!?
Why am I telling you all about this? Because I really think it’s important to be real as an artist. I think it’s easy to be just getting started trying to get your art out there and to get really discouraged. It is HARD to put yourself out there and have it feel like no one cares. I know so many people who enthusiastically started an Etsy shop only to get discouraged after four months and let it drift off into internet-oblivion because they couldn’t get any momentum. I get discouraged too. All. The. Time. So many feeds are so highly curated, polished, and perfected that it makes many things look easy. And those “10 step” marketing plans make it seem like if only you followed directions, you too would be an instant success.
What might not be obvious is that the perfect looking picture that you are seeing in your feed could only be making it to 10 people. You probably don’t think about it when you click, but every time you click that “like” button on one of my posts, I see every one of those clicks. I get a report of stats and percentages and engagement and so on from every one of those platforms telling me how many of you are willing to chat at the cocktail party. By liking something, you are telling the dumb algorithm that maybe it should show that post to other people who follow me too. Basically the algorithms favor the people who are already established. Instagram and YouTube even limit features available to you if you have fewer than a certain number of followers. That means if I don’t already have lots of people liking and commenting, then it won’t show it to other people who might want to like and comment. The algorithm makes it harder. It’s not just you doing it wrong.
Comments are like a gift. I read every comment. I try to respond to every one. (I don’t always catch them, but I try.) A share of a post is like winning the prize on a scratch off lottery ticket. Why? Because that part of the job is way harder than making the art. Your share just bought drinks at the cocktail party for 200 people I’ve never met before. Woohoo! I am putting together a set of new classes right now and the part I worry about isn’t the prep, the teaching, the photos or the pricing, but the marketing. How do I get the word out there to the right people that this thing is happening?
I want to know. What’s the hardest part of getting your art out there? What do you wish was just a little easier?