4. Networking and stalking (online) are your BFF
Last post I spoke about the importance of finding our target market. Despite very few sales at the first few art and craft fairs we attended, we learned valuable lessons. Good things can come from events that are financially a “failure”.
Similar to being an engineer, as an artist I’ve learned to make failure my friend. I’m not talking about looking for the silver lining. I mean using failure to look hard at what we are doing, what works, and what doesn’t.
Failure doesn’t care about your feelings. It’s the best friend who will say your favorite dress looks horrible on you. In public.
Ouch. And I still wear that dress because I love it and it makes me happy. Nah, so there.
Failure taught us when to change tactics and when to double down. It is still teaching us this.
It taught us to refine our sales pitch with a wide audience. We quickly learned their most common questions and how to concisely answer them with minimal confusion. Because boy howdy was there confusion in the beginning.
But above and beyond the pitch, we learned the importance of networking.
One of the only people to have an fangirl reaction to our jewelry at an early craft fair was a woman named Sara. At the time she worked for the local university in science outreach. We only had a couple of the (now) intermediate kits, and she suggested we work together to develop a simplified kit to use in her summer programs.
How could I say no? It fit right in with our mission to corrupt minors for science. So we worked together to develop the Beginner Rocket kit as well as curriculum to go with it.
Ultimately the summer program didn’t happen. Do I consider the experience a waste of time because we didn’t sell anything? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
I learned a TON from her about how to teach kids and keep them interested in complex concepts. And to this day Sara remains a good friend who has helped us both professionally and personally. Hello wine tasting buddy!
Now we don’t simply choose events we think will be the most profitable. We choose ones that have the highest likelihood of facilitating meaningful personal and professional relationships.
I’ve learned to help serendipity a bit by networking smarter.
I always take time to talk to other vendors. Some vendors aren’t interested in sharing, but many are. They love to answer questions about their passion. Through staying curious we found out what fairs were awesome and which were not. It is surprisingly hard to find negative reviews online from vendors about art fairs. Shocking, I know. Turns out artists are a generally polite and agreeable bunch, loath to say something negative in writing.
And I took up online stalking. No no no, not the harassing kind. The fangirl kind. SQUEE!
I paid attention to common traits in our customers, what else they were wearing or buying. If I found a vendor who appealed to them I’d sign up for their newsletter and follow them on facebook.
This isn’t to copy, we still have our own voice and style. But why re-invent the wheel? If a tactic is working for someone else we may be able to adapt it.
I even go so far as to periodically message one or two of my favorites and ask if they are interested in talking about their business. You’d be surprised how many are more than willing to mentor a fellow artist. I ask them how did they get where they are? How much money and sweat did it take? How do they display merchandise, what are their best sellers, how long have they been in the business? Biggest regret, hardest moment, biggest victory from the last year? These conversations have been invaluable.
Moral of the story, putting yourself out there is more than selling. Its connecting with people too.
And in this internet age there are more and more ways to connect. Choose the method that works best for you, whether its e-mail or in person.
Whats the worst that could happen? They say no or ignore you? Then you are in the same position you were before, no connection. But if you reach out and take that chance you might just learn something.
Up next, Lesson #5: Art Shows Aren’t Selling Art.