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When I read articles written by various Art Coaches regarding productivity as an artist, I am always dissatisfied. I feel like they miss elemental facts and concepts regarding the process of not just CREATING, but WORKING. Some come closer than others, but what changed me regarding productivity as an artist is the process of WORKING as a Webmaster for more than 20 years. A significant portion of what I did was artistic, and it put me in a place where I had to PRODUCE, regardless of whether I felt like it or not. And with practice, I COULD do that.
I find that in the end, it does not matter whether I sit down to troubleshoot a database, configure a shopping cart, or paint a landscape or floral painting, it is all just work.
When I was young, trying to discover what it meant to not just be TALENTED, but SKILLED, or even GIFTED, I knew I'd never be much, because I had SUCH TROUBLE figuring out WHAT to paint! Or carve, or sculpt, or build.
This is no longer a struggle because I learned as a Webmaster, if I did not know what to do, to go find instruction, inspiration, or a model to copy. Yeah. Copy.
So when I came back to painting, I just sought out the works of others to learn from. I never struggle to figure out WHAT I can do, only to narrow it down to THIS THING NOW.
I did not learn to be a WORKER from a place of CREATING. I learned to be a CREATIVE professional through doing WORK that took me there. So I BECAME capable of painting every day as a professional artists through the Work, rather than the other way around.
So, lest I give you everything here and then feel compelled to repeat it all again in the list of concepts that I feel may help you be a productive worker, as an artist (or author, or troubleshooter, or anything else, actually), I'll get to the list. Now.
- Copy... A Lot. Those people that say you must never copy the work of others are wrong. Flat out wrong. This is how we LEARN! It is the age old method for training artists. That stereotype of the artists copying works in the Louvre through the artistic ages of Europe is TRUE. They copied to learn. Their instructors TOLD them to copy! Now, "COPY" does not mean PHOTOCOPY, or to copy the FILE and call it ours. It means to REPLICATE our OWN RENDITION of it, in ALL OUR OWN WORK. The idea does not need to be ours, but the brushstrokes must be ALL OURS. We are most blessed to have the internet RIGHT HERE on our laps, where we can look up any topic we want, and find photographs, paintings, and computer renditions to inspire us and to practice copying to learn new ways to create the thing that makes our own heart sing. So copy. Do it UNREPENTANTLY! (We do not mean doing so ILLEGALLY, you can never copy Their Signature, or pretend that the whole thing was your idea to start with, but you can copy it, and never lose ONE BIT of authenticity.) Of course, over time, we ALTER the things we copy more and more, and we begin to have more visions that are entirely our own. But it doesn't happen easily, and it happens FASTEST if we just let go and copy whatever thrills us!
- Settle On ONE THING to do right now. I don't mean niching, I mean of all the inspiring things, PICK ONE, and just do it. It is so easy to build up a pile of things we want to do, and keep building the pile without creating anything. Sometimes we start out there, and never become an artist at all. Sometimes it derails us in the middle of a budding career. Just pick one thing, and do it. Sort down to a thing you know you can probably do, and leave the rest for another day.
- Regardless Of The Nature Of The Task, It Is Still JUST WORK. There are artists who lament that if they try to work faster they'll lose their emotional immersion in their work. That is NOT TRUE. Artists who WORK at it, and who become artistic professionals invest MORE in their art, not less. They are like the mother who STAYS HOME with their children instead of leaving them with the babysitter all day and trying to fit in a day of mothering in a few hours in the evening. Full time artists LEARN MORE about being an artist, they are MORE expressive in their works, and are MORE FULFILLED in their work. So it is just another kind of work. You tell me... Would you rather be flipping burgers or selling groceries all day, or working all day as an artist? Because the ONLY way to make it as a full time artist is to DO THE WORK, because art is in the end, just another kind of work. (Don't worry... some of it will ALWAYS still be play. It just can't NOT be.)
- Work Every Day. They say create art every day. I won't ever tell anyone that, life and art are both too complicated for that. But Art is Work. And other things are work also. And art includes MORE WORK than just brush on canvas, fingers on clay. Art includes shopping for supplies, research, lessons, searching out inspiration, and much more. Just do SOMETHING every day according to what your life allows, and do something that MOVES THE WORK ALONG. The great truth is that Productivity requires PRACTICE, and honing your work ability. It means you WORK THROUGH the boredom and burnout and come out the other side ABLE to keep going even when it is not the thing you'd prefer to do. Daily application teaches you and refines you so you can work more diligently.
- Keep Lots Of Inspiration On Hand. Don't just go looking for ideas, save them, and organize them into some kind of sense. It is LEGAL for you to download images, and even to filter or alter colors in Photoshop and save that on your hard drive. You cannot sell the thing you save, even if you've altered it. But you CAN do this much. So I keep folders of paintings, photos, and digital art that inspires me. Much of it I use as a template for my own work. Yeah... I copy it, and paint my own version. It is LEGAL to do all of this. It is also ETHICAL to do it. (Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery in this instance also.) I organize it by topic, and often by the method I want to use to replicate it. I keep folders for Puddle Painting, Palette Knife Painting, Sponge Painting, Acrylic, Oils, Watercolor, Oil Pastel, Colored Pencil, Felt Pen, Line and Wash, etc. When I feel like working on an Oil Pastel Painting, I go dig through that folder first, and usually find a thing I really want to do. I also have sketches of ideas, sometimes with notes, and photos my husband or I have taken, but most of it is on the computer simply because it is easier and more prolific. It is ESPECIALLY important to keep a lot of ideas on hand if you want to be a strongly productive artist who completes more than one work a day. Takes a lot of advance preparation to be able to keep up with that kind of work load.
- Prepare A Work. The process of painting is really only part of it. There's a lot more that goes into it. Finding the concept, studying it out, working out the layering of the elements in the painting, figuring out the brushes (or sponges, knives, etc), and just how it will be executed. Making sure the paints, canvas, and tools are on hand, and that the workspace is open and available for it. Most works have half an hour at least, and often several hours of effort put into them before the brush ever touches the canvas. Be ready to go and the whole work proceeds faster. There's an efficiency rule to this one. Sure, we can work it out as we go. But we can often do that WITHOUT the brush in our hand, and if we do the prep work first, that work can often be done in between or along side other tasks, so we don't have to keep wet paints and other messy items OUT and vulnerable for extended periods of time.
- When Time Is Short, Break Tasks Down. I painted a series of three paintings, little ones, over a period of three weeks. I worked on other paintings MOST days (some days there was not time). I painted a border on all three the first day. I painted a secondary border the second day. Each thing I did, I did on all three paintings one right after another, on the same day. I decorated the border the third day, and finished it off on the fourth day. Then I painted skies and water one day. I blocked in mountains and plains another day. I painted trees one day, and vegetation another, and mountains still another. I broke the tasks down into a compact work set so I could finish a section of all three within a short session of perhaps 15-30 minutes. I have done this with other works also, sponging in a background one day, detailing one section the next, and another the third day to finish a work that was either overwhelming to me, or that I did not have sufficient time for in one day. Most of my works are 1-4 hours to paint, but some I have to work out as I go if I've not done one like that before. Break it up logically - section by section, color grouping by grouping, or some other logical division of layers.
- Learn Methods. Not all methods are equally efficient! Bob Ross is a method - back to front on the canvas, dark colors then lighter colors to build lighting on objects, and the use of brush technique to create quickly and easily. Puddle Painting is a method, direct applied, spread out, and then blended, then lightly worked and refined. Watercolor Gouache is a method - a combination of additive and subtractive media application combined with blending down pastels, and surface applied white. Heavy Color Build Up With Crayon Blending is a Method for Oil Pastels, that creates a specific look in the finished work, which is NOT FASTER, but which can improve accuracy. Methods help you learn to achieve a professional look in your work, using a combination of techniques and concepts that help you produce a consistently good end result. Studying method can shorten the learning curve and speed up your development as a professional, and can cut YEARS off the time it takes to learn to produce salable works, or fine art.
- Learn Technique. Not everyone loves Bob's trees. But when we study how Bob creates trees, we can take that technique and carefully learn to produce our own version. Artists the world over use fan brushes to create evergreens, and round brushes or oval brushes to create leafy trees. Some do so in a way you easily identify because they are not as refined in the way they do it. But others refine the technique, and sometimes add a few independent brush strokes to complete it. This, and other brush techniques, media or canvas techniques help us produce impressionistic elements very rapidly, and consistently recognizable, with FAR LESS effort than we would expend if we painstakingly painted every dot individually. I cannot over state the importance of technique to a professional artist. It is one of the things that DEFINES a professional and separates them from an amateur. It is one of the things that FORMS A STYLE for each individual artist - the specific techniques you use, and the WAY you use them is what MAKES your style.
- Compromise on Complexity. So one of the things we can do to increase the SPEED of our production, is to SIMPLIFY specific things that are complex by nature. Now there are those who argue that the complexity is what makes the art, therefore it can never be compromised or simplified. NOT SO. First, there are things that can be simplified (sometimes using faster technique), that do not change the CORE of the work. Second, we may choose to develop a SECONDARY line of work, using a SECOND style that is faster. So some of our work takes 4 hours for a specific canvas size, and the secondary style that we work in may take only 1 1/2 hours to complete the same size. We may work in a refined impressionistic style for one type, and a rough impressionistic style for another. We choose to develop both a COMPLEX, and a SIMPLIFIED method for our works, so we can concentrate on one, and just whip out the other. You'd be amazed to know how many fine artists practice some form of slop art for 3/4 of the work they produce. This both speeds up the production, and it gives us the ability to KEEP WORKING when we are feeling drained or overwhelmed. It keeps us working productively all the time.
- Forget the Muse, Do The Stuff. Sometimes we get caught in the feeling that we need to FALL into a state of WANTING to do the work before we begin it. Oh how we miss out when we feel like the muse has to visit us and entice us in, rather than just immersing ourselves and taking the initiative so we invite the muse, instead. I have learned a great truth which has NEVER failed me. It does not fail me with art, with difficult dry troubleshooting, with balancing the checkbook, or with writing a technical book. If I BEGIN THE WORK, I can lose myself in the work. I just have take the effort to START. If I push myself THAT MUCH, that muse rises up, and I am lost in the work, and can be content doing it, and the ideas and intellect that I need, in order to do it, are THERE. But I must first BEGIN. Sometimes it SEEMS like the muse comes to greet me, and beckons me in, but on reflection, I know that I was ALREADY halfway there when that happens. My mind was ALREADY engaged, so the muse was already hanging around. When it isn't there, I know I can GET it, just by going to work..
- More Of What Works. When we are struggling to find our way with creative works, we sometimes get lost in trying to do a thing that we not suited to, that our media does not do well, or that we are not yet mature enough as an artist to pull off. To pursue success and productivity, do more of what you know works. Use that as your springboard for developing more refined technique, and to develop your own methods. Do more of what works ESPECIALLY when you are developing a new method of your own, or choosing new materials such as which type of acrylic paint, for example, to use long term. Do less of what does not when you HAVE to sell the work. Work on refining the things that don't work well, for works that are not critical.
- Find Your Style. This is part of doing more of what works. When we set out to paint, things don't always work the way we want them to. We may be limited in what our eyes and hands can make of the thing we were trying to replicate. We can NEVER replicate someone else's work exactly. We just can't do it. Our effort will result in something that is generally QUITE different. We may be able to SEE that it was an attempt to copy, but it will be distinctly different. Hers had broad brushstrokes. Mine had mostly sweeping brushstrokes, but also a lot of little dots. She painted one way, I painted another, in spite of my attempt to imitate her! Your style is made up of more than just YOU. It BEGINS with you, but is also constrained by the media you use, the surface you paint on, the brushes and applicators you choose, and maybe even the type of climate control in your workspace. The thing is, when you go about finding your style, you have to compromise by SEEING what works, and then DOING that! You then CHOOSE your subject matter by studying out the works of other artists, photographs, or live subjects, until you can SEE how it is done, and KNOW where the brushstrokes go, how the colors are mixed, where you use wet blending, where you use posterized layering, etc. When you can look at the painting or the photo, and you KNOW how the magic is made, you can probably do it with YOUR STYLE. When you start smiling in the middle of a difficult work, and you know SOMETHING IS HAPPENING!!!, then GO WITH THAT! Finding your style is always somewhat of a war with yourself, because what you can do well is RARELY what you envisioned as being the thing you wanted. We are something other - and often something less. But USUALLY there is something WORKABLE In there that can be MAGICAL if we decide to settle for what we CAN do, then build on that over time.
- Work The Work. There is often a place in a painting, sometimes in EVERY painting, where we are not sure if it is going to be a GOOD work, or a failed one. Professional artists tell us, WORK the work. Work the problem areas. Keep trying to get it to work. Sometimes we DO give up in frustration, and if you've been at it a while and are making no progress, stopping for a while, and coming back, can help. But it can also get us LOST, if we've been mixing paints, and cannot be sure of getting the same colors again, or even coordinating ones (in which case we have to retouch more areas of the painting than just the one that is in need of repair). It can be overwhelming to come back to a painting to repair it later, so we only do so if it is a total loss if we don't. But short term, absolutely keep working it. Most often successful strategies are, to add shadow underneath (scumble it in with a small mostly dry brush), add more highlight to the top (various techniques for this), or add surface detail. The other thing that comes up again and again, is, to make sure the STYLE of the problem area matches the other areas.
- Planning Only Matters If You Follow Through. We have an entire culture of laziness developing in the US, and it really blossomed with the advent of social media, and little snowflake coaches who tell people to manifest their dreams so they will come true. They NEVER EVER mention that any planning or goals or dreams have to be followed by WORKING an EFFECTIVE step by step plan to unfold the realization of the plan. You have to DO THE WORK, Chickie Boo, or you won't EVER see the dream on anything other than the backs of your eyelids.
- Treat It Like A Job. This is not how we LOSE artistry, it is how we EXPAND our artistry. When we treat it like WORK, rather than just play, we become MORE analytical, and MORE methodic, and we learn to apply technique to express more fully using light, shadow, diversified color, form, composition, etc. We learn to do so faster, and more accurately. The process is MORE expressive, not less, because you become MORE of an artist. Hobbyists are just never quite capable of the same degree of growth as a professional is.
- Keep Your Materials Convenient. Set up your workspace as best you can. Many of us work in challenged situations, where our art is mixed up with so many other elements of our life that we just laugh scornfully when people talk about how to arrange a "studio". The easel on the dining table, the tote set up in front of the recliner to lay the canvas on, the TV trays that hold all the tools of the trade, the desk in the corner of the room with paint stains on it, the pile of clay on the lap desk, the corner of the shop that always has things spilling over into the woodwork and engine parts. You know. LIFE! But do what you need in order to keep your working tools as accessible as possible, because when the paint thinner is buried in the bottom of a tote, under another tote, with a bucket on top of it, it may discourage you from starting an oil painting, or even from finishing one (true story). This really affects productivity, but reality DOES interfere with the ideal. Just do the best you can!
- Selling Is As Important As Creating. If you never sell, you will NEVER be productive. Sales motivate us to produce, to experiment, to grow beyond today's skills. Trust me, if you paint a hundred paintings and have not sold a one, your output WILL decrease. Eventually you'll feel that it is not worth it. So find a way to get your work out where it sells.
- Create In More Than One Style For Simplicity. We already said this, but we don't just mean you should work with more than one style, we mean you should really WORK on that secondary style. Make it yours. Develop your own method. Make the secondary simpler style a professional one, and work it into something awesome and original We also recommend having MORE than one secondary style, and it may involve other mediums, or it may be just one thing you work with.
- Explore Multi-Creation Methods. This means working more than one piece at a time. It means either interleaving your work, doing a bit on this, and then a bit on that, so you can face the hard stuff in one while you whip out a few simpler ones along side, OR, it can mean painting more than one painting simultaneously with the paint wet on all of them, all the way to full on assembly line art, where we paint six backgrounds, six mountaintops, six water foregrounds, six sets of trees, and then six sets of grassy banks, all one after another, USUALLY with the same color palette, but occasionally with a variant in each one that may involve a few color differences between. These methods can all provide an increase in production when studied out and modified and optimized bit by bit. Assembly line artists can produce 10-50 11X14 paintings in one day (8 working hours), using simplified compositions and brushstrokes, and they AREN'T entirely slop art. Yeah, there is often planning time ahead on that, if they are not all replicas of the same work, but the application of the paint happened that fast.
- Art Isn't Just Fine Art. There are many classifications of art, and they include low end salable art, as well as advertising art, cartoons, and other types of commercial art. Commercial art is created on demand to meet a specific need, and is highly dependent upon the whims of someone else. It is difficult to please another person, and that can really impact production, but commercial art (including website art and graphics) can really give you the experience to make art the WORK.
- Breaks Only Refresh You If You Go Back To Work. Taking a break can KILL productivity if you just want to Facebook instead of working. A 15-30 minute break though, can sometimes turn our perspective around, give us a little more energy to keep at it, and maybe even open a door to increased inspiration if we browse sources of imagery during the break. But the thing about breaks is you HAVE to go back to work, or the break never makes you more productive!
- Sometimes The Break Is The Work. Finding alternate work to do during a break is a great way to keep on working, while giving yourself a rest for the challenging things that wear you out. Take time off from painting to do some blog comments (leave your website URL in the appropriate place), post a blog post of your own, share an image of some of your work, or other marketing tasks. Use it to order supplies (we love spending money, so this really works), or to run and get the mail. Go start dinner in the crock pot, correct your kids' schoolwork, or pull a few weeds in the garden. Alternate work can return you refreshed to pick up the brush again.
- In Spite Of Distractions. Life provides a LOT of distractions, and sometimes we go out of our way to distract ourselves with non-essential fripperies. We need to find ways to SHUT DOWN the distractions that derail us. I learned to paint, troubleshoot, crochet, study, write, build computers, build websites, create templates, and more, with kids at my feet. Distracting? Often. But I also learned to deal with a thing with them, and then re-engage with the work at hand. Art isn't any difference, though you DO have to keep the kids and pets out of the paint. That kind of distraction just CANNOT HAPPEN!
She could not BE a full time artist. She and her husband own a business, and it is a demanding one. It is their life's work, and art is not. But her soul needs creative work, and their business is not that... Well, beyond the problem solving that takes a mind that is capable of thinking originally, it is not a creative work. And today, she wants to stop, and paint, instead of heading out on their regular intensive rounds. It isn't the kind of work where she can paint while she waits for the work to resume.
Her first instinct is to tantrum. If she does that, she heaps the blame for her discontent upon her husband, after all, this is HIS enterprise first, and she is just there because they make a fine living when they work together. Oh, she loves the product, she does. But the work is not HER dream. This morning she does not care that the work is not HIS dream either, it is just the thing that is required for him to do the thing he really loves - and that is harvesting a crop, and then packaging it and wholesaling it. It is a major enterprise, filled with things HE does NOT ENJOY, all so he can do the parts of it he loves. And she often feels as though she is along for the ride.
So today she makes a decision. She will not tantrum. She won't grumble. She will go and do the work. She will BE A PROFESSIONAL, and she will be a professional ARTIST, by confining her artistic work to the time she HAS. She will be the one to bend to the demands of LIFE.
She could, in fact, go full time as an artist, and make a fine living. But to do so she would have to give up something that she wants - and that is WORKING with her husband. And he could not do it without her, not nearly so well, anyway. He needs her. And the product is worth bringing to market. It takes priority. It probably always will.
So her painting must wait until tomorrow. Her one day off each week, with so much to pack into it. But she will put it there. Or perhaps she can set things out one evening, block it in the next, and finish it the third evening, if she is not too tired. Because while the business takes center stage, she must be more than just her husband's sidekick. She must be MORE of her. Sometime.
- Punching A Clock Is Only One Way. I can't function with a time clock at home. I can in an employment situation though. I just work. I get breakfast, check email, attend to anything else that has rolled over from the day before, or come in during the night, and then I work on the work for the day. Sometimes it is afternoon before I get there. Sometimes it is 5 minutes after breakfast. But I am driven enough to work that I do so even without a time clock. If you need to clock in for yourself, then do so. But there are other ways to get into a work mindset, and you can do it the way that works for you.
- Make Your Own Challenge Lists. Challenge lists rarely provide useful challenges for creative people, because each person is focused on this THING, and their agenda. Yours won't match. Go ahead and pick and choose, and make up your own challenges, and write up a list of your own if you want one. Me, I don't USE a challenge list, except in a teaching setting where I have objectives I need the students to meet, where they can choose the project to meet them. I just have OBJECTIVES. I want to paint one of THOSE paintings. Then I want to improve it. Then I want to combine it with THAT technique. Or I want to develop my own method for THIS thing. The thing I want you to get from this is to find your own steps to growth, and NEVER put guilt on yourself because you could not finish someone else's challenge list. Just work on improving. Their list isn't the only way to do that.
- Forget Commission Work... Seriously! If you have never done any kind of commercial art work, you may think that commission work is the holy grail of fine art. It is a tremendous productivity killer. See, you paint this, and you've done five similar paintings, and you charge THAT for them. Someone says, "I'd really like that done in earthtones.". You quote a price that is 50% higher, and they protest. And you HAVE to quote it higher, because you have to SATISFY them! But let's say they DO pay it. You already have the concept in mind, and it is in lovely earthtones, including some brick reds and blue browns. You dive in, and get lost in the work, and you are REALLY HAPPY with it! The unveiling occurs and the client HATES IT! They say something dumb like "I thought you'd just use tan and brown.". And they will say that when your TRADEMARK is using fractured or refractory colors! The thing is, unless you have NEVER DONE any kind of commission work, you ALREADY KNOW that WHATEVER YOU DO, the client is GOING TO HATE IT! It happens every time. No matter how much they specify what they want, no matter how much it is your style with that subject in their specified colors, they will HATE IT. So then you either spend time painting another really stupid painting, trying to stab in the dark to find the thing that flips their switch, or you just tell them to SELL IT AND TRY AGAIN! And they won't. Because they paid 50% MORE for it than your paintings sell for, and they can't sell it for that no matter HOW cool and awesome it is. So don't even TRY for commissions, ok? You won't be any happier than the client about the results!
"I took the job. It was $400 to write an article and create the graphic that went with it. I completed the writing (one day of research, and one day of writing, it is fairly long), and it was approved. I began the graphic, sketched it out, scanned it in, and spent 7 hours painstakingly redrawing and coloring that graphic in PhotoShop. The client hated it. They refused to accept it. Not one bit of it. I spend the next day trying to come up with another concept from the article that I can illustrate, that is not either too complex for me to do, or so simple that it is not worth doing. Late in the day I realize I can branch from the original, so I go to work on that. This time, I turn in the scanned sketch to them. They hate this one too. She blurts out, "That is the ONE area of the article we do NOT want illustrated. It points out our weakness.". I tell her this is the one area you NEED illustrated, because once the customer understands it, it is no longer a weakness! She can't get it. She says, "I really wanted the illustration of the product in the hands of the customer with the look of delight on their face" She wants Rembrandt. I can't do that. I can only BARELY do the hands. She doesn't want that. We finally compromise on the FIRST illustration I did, combined with the product in the hands. The combination sends a message she thinks she can live with. It takes me two days to get the hands right. The product is easy in comparison. Then she wants the article revised to reflect something that she feels the illustrations do not make clear. I am one week into a 3 day job. I have done no other work during that time, and I have deadlines to meet, other clients waiting, and this one job lasting far longer than it should. In the end, I did work I would typically charge $700 for, and I got paid just $400. It also lost me one other good job, because I could not complete it in time, and they went with another professional, and they don't come back next time. The thing is, this was typical. I never had any kind of commission work that involved any kind of artistry that wasn't a disaster during at least one point in the production process, and it ALWAYS kills my productivity, even if I charge more for it."
- Reality Sometimes Bites. There are so many things that interfere with becoming a professional artist. Our own talents may not measure up. We may not be able to easily source the materials we need. We may work under really sucky conditions because we have no room. Our tools may be inadequate. We may live in Utah where nobody buys art for more than $25, and then they think they've been cheated, no matter how good it is. We may discover too late that paint "sinks in", or that some colors brighten, or dull down, as they dry. Not everybody likes everyone's work, and some things that some creators call "art" are not considered to be so by the public at large, and it may be YOUR art that gets classed that way! Sometimes reality just comes in and smacks us, and then laughs. Stand up straight. You are a professional, remember? We have to take it on the chin sometimes, and then just do the best we can to overcome the problems. Or quit. And sometimes THAT IS a rational option.
"So we always KNOW the thing that we did that was good, even if nobody tells us. I did this painting, in felt pen. It was the first of a new style for me, and I knew it was worth having done. I've got friends who are artists, and this was like one of my best friend's work, but it was distinctively MY style, not hers. I've been courting a gallery, and they are interested, but no sales by me to them yet. I'm so pleased with this I take it to the gallery immediately. She's thrilled. She loves it, and tells me this is a style I should refine. I do it well, and she pays me right there, and takes the painting. She pays me $400 for a work that took me 3 days to do. This is currently my only employment, I'm somewhat disabled and cannot work a job outside the home, and this is now my JOB, I think. I can rock this.
"So I search for other graphics that I can do in that style. I find a boodle and sit down to do another work. This one takes 2 days, and my hand is sore already, so by the second day, my right hand is aching, and I've got nerve stress and mild rhabdo. Enough that it is swelling by the end of the second day. This is SO NOT GOOD. But the work is done, and I take in, and she pays me another cool $400.
"Here I am, with $800 for a workweek. Not so bad. I can do this. Except my hand can't. I have to heal it. I soak it in Epsom salts, and that helps, surprisingly. But it gives me a headache. They can do that. I keep my hands moving slowly, and drink lots of flush fluids, and the screaming pain that sets in that night is coming under control within a day, and is bearable by Monday.
"I have to earn. So I pick up that set of pens, and try again. They are drying out. Good quality Pentel Pens, that I paid more for, so I'd have the best. I've done about four works with them, and even the colors I have not used are drying out. I look them over, and find that the caps have VENT HOLES IN THEM. ON PURPOSE! No kidding. World Class art supply company, and they screw the customer that badly! So I get out the shoe goo and plug those holes. Maybe I can get a few more works from the pens. I've already ordered a second set, and they are Pentels also. At least I'll know to plug the holes right away when they come in.
"I work slowly. I choose simpler works, and just nurse my hand along. I work until it hurts, then I stop and rub it and wiggle it in other directions, and then I start again. That gives me some relief, but I can only work shorter and shorter bursts as it tires. Pretty soon the rubbing and wiggling does not help, and it hurts if I use it, so I stop for the day. Just like spinning with a lap spindle during the break in period.
"It takes me all week to finish a simplified work. My style changes a bit to accommodate the hand cramps and the drying felt pens. It is kind of a miracle, what happens. The gallery owner is speechless. She says, "Kelly, I did not SEE how you could refine the emerging style, but this is IT. You have a compelling linear style, with interlacing, and intricate color usage. It is very impressive. Keep working this one out. In fact, simplify THIS also, and you'll have an outstanding style." Here I'm just trying to get by, and getting by gives me a new talent set.
"All I can do right now with sore hands is this one thing. I can paint with acrylics also, but I haven't managed to produce a consistent seller there yet. Two other galleries do NOT want these. Partly because felt pen TAKES LONGER than paints do - the lines are thin and it is time consuming to fill all the white space. So I end up earning LESS per hour for most of my felt pen works. These, the one gallery owner will pay me MORE for, because they are more salable. But the other two galleries won't. They don't believe in paying a new artist more than $50 per work, and I won't sell this type anymore for that. They take too long to do.
"I work the next week to do another simplified work, and my hand gives out entirely. I can't do anything with it for about four days, and then I can scribble a little foundation work on one page. I do a few rough sketches for planned works every day, and that is all I can do, holding a pencil lightly. I can't work at all on anything significant for about 2 weeks, and then I notice that I can work for about 10 minutes instead of five. But it still isn't much.
"Over the next week I know I am building strength in my hand again, and by the end of the week I have a ROUGH work completed. Not exactly what I used to do, but not nearly what I can do now if my hand is good. But she buys it. It is only $150. But it is groceries for two weeks, anyway.
"I can then complete one full work the next week, and then two the following. Now I have to REFINE my method so that I can do a work each day, or even more. It means both changing the style again, just a little, and learning to do it faster. I do both. I work up to 1 1/2 paintings a day. And I''m selling them.
"This just might work out after all. By the way, I'm a guy, just in case you wondered."
- Never Niche Your Work. This is another thing you get told that is TOTALLY WRONG! Artists who niche into a single thing, or only doing a single class of things DO NOT MAKE MORE MONEY. The Old Masters not only did more than one thing, they also USUALLY had about four signatures they worked under, producing MANY types of works. So if you sculpt, carve, build furniture, wood burn, tole paint, paint oil landscapes, produce acrylic abstract impressionism, paint large and gaudy florals, and crochet doilies, GO FOR IT! You can just PUT IT on your website in your shopping cart and LET THEM find it, or you can CATEGORIZE it. The MAJORITY of successful artists are out there just workin' it doing whatever tickles their brush hand. Explore ALL that you are! Of course, if THIS SELLS, and that does NOT SELL, then do more of what sells, and work on getting the thing that does not sell into a thing that does! But don't shut down something you love doing, that you do well, just because someone tells you that you should focus on only one thing!
"I own a gallery. It seems that every artist that decides to "sell their work" or "go full time" is told to niche their work, to restrain their work to just one or two things. Some people believe they have to do this rigorously - one style, one subject matter. And sadly, they do it.
"Emma has been selling all kinds of works to me and three other galleries. She's not yet earning a living, she's bringing in 5-10 works a month, and they are all over the board. I help her refine her signature, and tell her that, and refining her skills, is all she needs to do.
"But she wants a reputation, she says. So she goes for one thing. It is soft florals. Not the bouquets, but natural settings. Lots of pastels. She can sometimes earn more for those, so that is what she zeroes in on.
"Well, I can only use a few of those. So I purchase two a month from her, and she sells the rest to others galleries, and she's producing just as much, but they don't want as much from her. They liked the variety.
"She improves her website and starts selling there, but sales are sluggish.
"She begins running out of original ideas, even when she is imitating a LOT of other artists. She has a style that is kinda cool, but overall, not remarkable. It is GOOD, but not distinctive. Some other things she was doing were becoming very distinctive. But she is told that this one thing is her BEST thing, and that it will always sell.
"She comes in one week with two paintings. They are good, but she is so clearly in burnout that she can't even produce anymore. She almost explodes on me, and I tell her, "Just go home and paint what you WANT to paint, ok?". Because I need more of THAT, but I can't persuade her.
"That week, her husband hides her watercolors, and puts her acrylics back out. He waits two days, and then puts her oils back out. Then two days later he puts out the felt pens and colored pencils. She bites on the colored pencils. One tiny little gorgeous floral bouquet. It is BETTER than before.
"Then she tries a little felt pen sketch, and immediately starts on an acrylic painting. The acrylic is finished, and she works more on the felt pen drawing. She whips out a Bob Ross Style oil painting, and while that is drying, finishes the felt pen work, and does one more colored pencil, and two more acryilcs.
"She comes in at the end of the week with eight finished works. I assess them, buy 6, and she leaves smiling. She has something bubbling, and I don't know what it is.
"But the next week she comes in with eighteen works. Some are variants, and two are new media for her, she's working on a style for oil pastel. She's also developing a new style with watercolor, and it is radically different. She says everyone warns her that if she changes her style she'll lose the old style. She laughs and says, "I've had THIS one, and THAT one all my life, and even though I do a more refined version of both, I still keep those. I had to just look at ME to know the warnings were just stupid. I'm so excited about what I can do with all the different stuff, and all the different styles, and all the different compositions.".
"Two weeks later she tells me, "My paintings are SELLING on my website. Really SELLING. And the odd thing is, I am getting customers who buy more than one, now, and they almost NEVER buy two of the same type."
"This woman is not an isolated example. This happens regularly, and either their sales drop, or they burnout. I can only tell them to be ALL that they are, and just love the journey, once they have skills that are actually salable.
""I don't believe that niching is ever an advantage for a diversified artist. I think it is the cry of the stifled artist, who just does not have the creativity to branch out."
- Don't Buy The Myth Of The "Ideal Customer". There is no such thing, for ANY business! Why would you spend so much time fantasizing over an idea like that, which never COULD be? A rational thinking adult knows that every business attracts all kinds. The enthusiast, the casual browser, the customer that depends on your product, and the one that only gives it as a gift to someone they do not like! Your style, your production, if TRULY from the heart, and if TRULY married to skills that display it, will be ALL SORTS OF THINGS! And it will attract, or REPEL all sorts of customers. Just SELL the art. Give a good description, and throw it out there for the customer to decide. If a "marketing expert" ever starts in on the necessity of identifying your "ideal customer", then turn away. They don't know how to sell ANYTHING. Because "ideals" NEVER EXIST, and we all know that. Especially if we are married. With children. I don't have the words here to fully describe how ABSURD this concept is. Rather, get to know the customers you DO have and treat them well - don't go spamming them to death either. As we know, art buyers RARELY EVER buy from us MORE THAN ONCE, so don't waste your time trying to please them all, or worse, one that can never even exist. Those customers are JUST as varied and complex as YOU are, and they will buy from SOMEONE ELSE because they want to invest in something else next time, they are just interested in all kinds of things, not just your art. Just accept the variety, and enjoy the ride.
- Keep Your Clothes and Hands Clean. Contrary to popular belief, painting (or other art production) does not need to be a MESSY occupation (potentials notwithstanding). Practice working with your elbows in, and your hands close to your work. Minimize excess movement, and keep your motions compact and efficient, and your clothes and hands stay cleaner. This makes you work MORE efficiently, not less, and it actually SPEEDS UP your production once you practice it enough that it becomes intuitive. This is achieved by being AWARE of where your brushes, paints, and wet surfaces are. As I am working, I RARELY touch a wet surface, and I only make a brush error outside the canvas with about 1 in 15 works (and THAT INCLUDES paint overbrushed onto the EASEL). I only have paint touch my clothing in about 1 in 40 works, and that is a TINY bit. I get paint on my hands perhaps 1/20th of the time. The exception for hands is when I am using sponges, and then I get paint on my fingers and CAN'T touch anything else until I am done! (And I DON'T typically spread paint from my hands to anything else when I get paint on my fingers from the sponges.) I am simply AWARE of where the paint goes, and I have PRACTICED to be VERY CAREFUL to not spread wet paint around. My husband and I have painted entire rooms without getting paint on our clothing. I NEVER change my clothes before I set out to paint. I have ONE shirt that had a tiny residual blue paint stain on it (and that, I painted over with a floral tree painting), and one pair of pants with a small smear that washed out, and this from painting about 150 works. I am very fast at painting also, and keeping clean does NOT slow me down, it speeds me up. Statistically, professional artists who wear regular clothing for painting (no paint smock), produce at a rate of 3 times as many works as those who wear a paint smock or dedicated painting clothes. Vermeer wrote upon this subject, and said, "The Paint Smock must be done away in order for an artist to be a professional. It is clumsy, and provides the excuse to the artist that they must never care where the paint goes. My studio of 10 artists is never allowed to wear a Paint Smock, and we find that as soon as they stop marking their clothing as they work, they truly become a professional artist, and their output increases so much they take years to get over the amazement of how much they can produce in a single day. They are paid by the paintings they produce, and not by the hour, so they really notice how much they complete. Our average worker produces 10 high quality impressionistic paintings per day." We find that when people wear clothing OVER their street clothes, to produce art, that they work more slowly, they enjoy the work less, they overheat more frequently, they fuss with their smock, and they work for shorter periods of time due to discomfort. We find that when they wear dedicated clothing just for painting (sweats and a T-shirt are popular), they spend time CHANGING their clothing before and after, they work for shorter periods of time, and they do not work impulsively - they will not pop into their "studio" to touch up a thing, and they won't work on a painting on and off while they attend alternate work - they work an average of 1/10 as often as comparable artists, and they produce 1/20th of the amount of work in the time that they DO work, they tend to be painfully cautious and hesitant in spite of being messy. We find that painters who stain their clothing spend 1/3 of their creative time cleaning their workspace, compared to NONE spent by workers who do NOT stain their clothing. We find that painters who stain their clothing spend 4 times as much time retouching painting errors, compared to painters who do not stain their clothing. When you learn not to stain your clothing with paint, your on-canvas work becomes more accurate also. Learn to work CLEAN, and you can produce in all sorts of ways, and you do it with a sense of smiling accomplishment, instead of a sense of always having to deal with messes.
Fortunately I did not say keep your TOES clean. A few days after writing that it helps to keep your hands and clothes clean, I am putting paint into a pallette - liquid paint. The bottle is nearly empty. I tap it upside down, and squeeze - SPLUT! A pile of paint goes into the dish and it splats airily at the end. I tap again, and it goes SPLOT! and two drops of paint hurl sideways and hit my toes. On the OTHER foot. I'm tapping and squirting on the left, and those two drops of paint hit my RIGHT foot. One little drop on my big toe, and one large blop on my second toe. They whiz past my legs, my pants, the floor, the workstand, and everything else they could have stained, and hit my bare foot. I wiped them off promptly, of course, but they would not wipe completely off. I sported a streak on the side of my big toe, and a big swipe down almost the full length of my second toe for the rest of the day. But no stains on the floor, no stains on my pants, and none on my hands either. The painting turned out. No real artistry on the toes though.
- Keep Your Workspace Clean. This is like baking, you clean as you go. I often take out a set of brushes and a set of paint colors for a work, and put them away when I am finished. But I'll also take out a partial color palette and put those way when I'm done with that segment, so that my workspace stays less cluttered. I clean my tools IMMEDIATELY after I finish using them, and my brushes don't sit in water encouraging the paint to peel and the ferrules to loosen. Fresher paint is easier to clean up than aged, even with quick dry like acrylics. You can ABSOLUTELY go TOO FAR in organizing and cleaning and taking things out and putting them away. Too much can DESTROY your efficiency. There's a SWEET SPOT though, of ORGANIZED FUNCTIONALITY, where we keep things OPTIMALLY clean and uncluttered. Artists who clean up their workspace and tools within 1/2 hour after finishing a work are 2 times MORE PRODUCTIVE than those who do not. Artists who do not clean as they go, LOSE up to 1/10 of their work to accidents or unnoticed theft. Artists who have a fascination with Ultimate Organization produce at a rate of only 1/5 of those who organize Moderately.
- Keep It Morally Clean. This runs right back into the realm of addiction, along with several other mental and psychological aspects. Artists that produce works with ANY nudity at all, UNDER-perform at a rate of 1-15, compared to artists who refuse to paint works with nudity. Artists who paint subjects in swimsuits produce at a rate of 1-8 compared to artists who paint human subjects fully clothed. Historically, the major artists who painted nude or partially clothed subjects produced at a rate of less than 20% of the works produced by artists who painted fully clothed subjects (this can also be proven by analyzing the PRODUCTIVE periods in the lives of historically famous artists, many of who had periods when they did paint nudes, and times when they did not do so). When analyzing INCOMES generated from the artwork (not including any other employment by the artist), of artists who paint subjects with nudity, compared to those who do not, the incomes of those who do NOT paint nudity outstrip (funny, huh) the porners by a rate of 40 to 1. Artists who paint fully clothed subjects earn 20 times the income of those who will paint swimsuit models. Both income studies included ALL the works of the artist, not merely the human subject works, and those who paint subjects fully clothed earn more across the board.
"I'd been warned all my life that I needed to keep my life morally clean. And when I began to paint, my father told me that if I did not keep it clean, I'd skew off into a different reality, and it would change how I got work, and the kind of work I got. I nodded and agreed. I wasn't going to paint nudes, I assured him. But I had no idea how walking the line would change my life.
"I painted just one beach scene. Just one girl, just one little provocative thing. Not undressed. Not really. Just a typical day at the beach, I thought.
"Father was not pleased. Mother was shocked. She shocked easily, I thought.
"I regularly sold paintings to a local gallery. You know, landscapes, beachscapes, florals, a few heavily dressed and made up fashion models. The gallery owner teased me that the fashion models were racy enough, and they weren't provocative at all. More like the front of old dress patterns.
"But this. It changed something.
"Within a few weeks, someone asked if they could get a copy of it. No, they didn't want to buy a print. They just wanted a photo of it. I already had one online. I told them where it was. It had a watermark on it. They wanted one without the watermark. No deal. I'd sell one. I would not give one away.
"The gallery refused the painting. Too far over their line, they said. It was only a bikini. It wasn't anything you would not see at the beach any day. But no. No sale. None of the other galleries in the region wanted it either. At least, not enough to PAY me for it. One offered me $25 for the painting, and said it was the going rate. Two offered to take it on consignment. They assured me they could NOT guarantee payment for me if the painting were stolen from them. I'd just be taking my chances.
"The owner of the first gallery warned me that if I decided to change my focus from clean and wholesome to edgy or over the line, that he'd have to really consider whether my reputation would allow him to continue to carry other works of mine. His was not the only warning. His gallery was the most honest one to deal with in the area.
"My production dropped from one painting every two days down to about one a week I spent a lot of time considering various works which I was not capable of rendering, instead of focusing on the things I could do and getting them done.
"One day two guys showed up at my house. They wanted to know my price for the painting. It was $800. One made a fakey wincing face. The other said, "You think you're pretty special, don't you?". "It is hand painted." I replied. "Hand painting costs more than that most of the time." They left. Before they left, one asked to use my bathroom. I declined.
"I really wanted to sell the thing. To me, it was just another painting at that point. But it did not sell. Instead, the watermarked copy starts making the rounds in my neighborhoods online. I see it on forums, social media, pic-sharing, etc. Someone has rubbed out the watermark in Photoshop, and they've played around with the bikini, and the body of the girl. What they are circulating has MY signature on it. But it is NOT my painting.
"One day my husband and I returned home from shopping to find someone in our house, with the lights on. We could see someone moving around in there. We called the police from our car, and they arrived with lights flashing some half hour later. The crooks had scooted out the back, and the painting was gone, along with my computer, our printer, our brand new TV, and my extra watch and glasses. The painting turned up at one of the galleries a few weeks later, and they called to report it to me, and I did get it back, only because they decided to be honest about the ownership of it.
"I had a conversation with clergy regarding the painting. I told him I did not see what the big deal was. He warned me that moral standards impact our lives in so very many ways that we do not see until we experience it. He said I should have been more careful, and that I should not have had to experience it, if I would just behave myself. He did not convince me. But I did decide to change something.
"I ended it. I had my sister pose in a similar pose, with a sundress on. It covered the top of the arms, the cleavage, and reached the top of her knees. I painted that on over the bikini. I wrestled with it, and felt kind of angry that other people would do something to my art, just because I painted a bikini on a girl at the beach.
"It was many years before I decided I'd be clean for the sake of being clean. But in the mean time, I stopped even thinking about painting anything provocative, and my career righted itself. The painting finally sold, and was altered at the request of the owner to lengthen the cover to over the top of the knee. The buyer said it was quite well done, and she loved the play of the fabric in the light on the beach, and how I had captured reflective colors from the waves in the folds of the fabric.
"Every once in a while that Photoshopped painting comes my way again, and it always comes along with rude and inappropriate comments about me. I really do wish I'd never done it. I did not realize that even a single work in that direction would impact my life, and my career as it did."
- Addictions NEVER Enhance Productivity. Drugs, Porn, Caffeine, CBD, Alcohol, etc, NEVER enhance productivity. They burn your brain, distract your mind and make your body LESS functional, not more. Study after study by honest specialists has demonstrated that clean and sober artists and workers outperform dirty ones at a rate of 3 to 1 on average, on the HIGH end, and 20 to 1 on the lower end of the EMPLOYED scale. The more addicted a person is, the more extreme that ratio gets, and severe addicts perform at a rate of 0 on a productivity scale. Their INCOMES reflect the same kind of disparity, with people who have never been addicted earning more in their lifetime than those who have been, and addicts earning far less when addicted than people who are not addicted, even former addicts, with non-addicts earning 2 times for hourly rates, and working twice as many days per year.
- In The End, YOU DON'T DECIDE What Others Buy. I hope you are just the most eclectic artist EVER. But I also hope you have some things that you know will sell if you make them. All the rest is chance. Sometimes we make things we love that nobody else loves. Be adult. Adjust. Because YOU don't decide what you do that is popular, THEY do! I have more than 100 paintings out there, listed. ONE has gone viral. ONE! And it is a nice painting, really. But it is not in any way my BEST painting. I have dozens that are just as good. But I don't decide that. They do. My only choice is to DEAL with it. So when I decide to produce art, I have to consider what THEY want, in order to be productive, because productivity requires a customer.
- You Need A Sustainable Business Model. This means SO MANY things. It means you have to DO BUSINESS, not just make art. It means that you need to understand that somethings take a LONG TIME to create, or expensive materials to create, but they sell for LOW PRICES. It means you CANNOT compete with a Korean company that produces machine printed works, instead of hand painted. It means you can't charge the same for your work, which is less skilled, and when you have NO reputation, as an established and experience artist charges for their work. The MATH has to work, first of all, and YOU have to work secondly. Your business model may be to produce decor art, or fine art, or commercial art. You may specialize in perennial favorites or in contemporary modernism. You may produce a wide variety of works, or you may only know how to do a series of variants on a work you can sell. You may sell them online on your own website, at trade fairs, through galleries or boutiques, or a combination of sales vectors. Whatever. The Business Model matters, and if yours does not work profitably, then something needs to change.
- We Call It Professionalism. So it means you work. It means you produce a quality product. It means you never cheat anyone. It means you act like an adult with a business, not like a child who wanted and A for D work and didn't get it. I am a professional. So when work is required, I work, and I give it all I've got at the time.
This is not all, by any means. But I hope it gives you something to chew on that nourishes your soul in some way or another, and encourages you to be MORE of a Productive Artistic Professional.
Hourly rates have become a standard in employment, both for pay to employees, and for subcontractors as a method of charging for their services. It is rather surprising to me how many people just accept that this is the only way to earn.
Hourly rates are a trap. Because in any given industry, a person will ask, "What do you charge per hour?". Then they comparison price based on that figure. Some are willing to understand that many people who charge more, do the work faster (or better), so it is worth hiring them. But the vast majority will only exceed the standard rates for that industry by a small margin before they seize up and go somewhere else. You are capped at how much money you can earn per day. There is a solid ceiling above which you cannot go. This is the hourly rate trap. And this is the thing that is SO EASY to overcome, once you understand how, and it is NOT by selling "online courses", or other info-products (which has its own set of problems, and its own limitations, and a good deal of work without pay before you ever DO get paid, IF you ever do!).
When we developed our web services, we did it differently. I always quoted a flat rate for everything. I had a fairly good idea of how much time it should take, and I added a buffer for those jobs that are unpredictable (where one time takes 5 minutes, the next time takes 2 hours, due to unforeseen complications - and with web development there were a LOT of those!). I quoted the rate, and stood by it.
At first, I did this because I was a work at home mom. It is hard to track hours when you are constantly being interrupted, and might have to go feed the baby at any time, or other things where it is hard to start and stop the clock. Tracking hours was a practical impossibility. So flat rates were really the only way I COULD bill for services.
Over time, this proved to be one of the most liberating things we ever did! It opened up earnings possibilities like you cannot imagine. It had only two drawbacks, and those were pretty much containable.
1. I did not have to run a clock, and stop it and start it during work hours. I was free to pick up the phone, attend to a child, go to the bathroom, whatever I needed to do, and NEVER WORRY about whether I was cheating the customer or not.
2. I could offer a better price over time than my competitors. There is a reason for that, which is the next thing on this list.
3. Over time, I was well motivated to get FASTER at every task I did. I have good analytical skills, and was able to isolate the areas of time wasting, and eliminate them. The faster I got, the more I made. There was no ceiling on how much I could earn.
4. I was no longer trapped by the hourly rate limit. My income was determined by my ability to produce the work, and not by someone else's idea of what was expensive.
5. My rates were predictable. The customer knew EXACTLY what it would cost them, no exceptions, and the rates ended up being very reasonable within the industry. Since my target was small businesses, they appreciated not having open ended tabs running on every task, where they did not know what something would cost until it was done.
6. Quoting by the task made me look at our services very carefully, to ensure that I NEVER did anything for the customer that would not make them money, or that would waste either my time or their money. We analyzed everything we were doing for effectiveness, and left out those things that simply were not worth the time, so that when we quoted a full service, we knew what was most important to include, and what was not worth including. When segmenting those services, we were then able to tell customers what things they should not pay for separately, because they were not worth their money. That gave us a HUGE advantage over our competitors, because most of them continued to charge for many useless services, and we were the only company telling them they were not needed, and explaining why.
7. I got very good at estimating time and potential problems, so I could quote a service I had never done, and be fairly close. Sometimes I got stung - I'd under-quote. Sometimes I'd over-quote, but the customer always thought it was reasonable anyway, since everyone else was over-quoting on it also on their hourly estimates (and usually charging for that anyway). But within 1-2 times of offering the service, I'd know exactly what to charge for it.
The only two disadvantages were that it could sometimes be confusing to quote on a service for the first time, leaving that potential to get stung if I did not research well, and the one drawback that I never did find a solution for - that if I hired a subcontractor, they would refuse to take the pay that I offered, which was according to the time it would take me to do the task. Because I learned to work faster, those who charged by the hour would not work for me, because they never bothered to learn to work fast enough to make good money at it. Sad, because if they had applied themselves a little, they could have made FAR BETTER money at what I paid them than they could by billing $50 an hour.
Over all the years of providing those services in that manner (close to 20 years now), I only ever had ONE customer INSIST on an hourly rate. And sure enough, when I told her what I made per hour on our services, she ran as fast as she could to find someone less skilled. I explained to her that we did NOT charge by the hour, but by the task, and that I worked faster than my competitors, so she would be paying for services at an effective rate of $50 per hour for highly skilled work, but that if she insisted that I bill by the hour, I'd have to bill $150 per hour. She bolted, aghast that I would have the audacity to charge her such a rate! Her corporate mentality was incapable of comprehending that an hourly rate is NOT a good means of determining value!
Having done this, I'd never go back. I'll never lock myself into a cage that is built of someone else's idea of what I should earn per hour. I'll also never hire an employee by the hour, or a subcontractor, for anything I cannot oversee in person, because otherwise it is just an invitation to them to treat my time in a casual manner. There is nobody who is so motivated to get the work done, and do it right, as someone who gets paid when it is done correctly, and who only gets the amount agreed upon. That employee, who is paid by the piece, or by the task, will work hard, and will become extraordinarily proficient at the job, as soon as they understand that if they do, their income will increase dramatically.
I am always fair about what I pay those who work for us. I always want to ensure that if I can do it in THIS amount of time, then I will pay them enough to earn really well if they do it competently, but a little more slowly than I do, and so they can earn exceptionally well if they work as fast as I can. But I won't pay them enough to earn well if they don't bother to learn to do the task proficiently. They are the ones then, who determine their own earnings potential, and they decide whether they want to earn minimum wage by doing a marginal job, median wage if they do an adequate job, or high wage if they do an outstanding job.
This is the one thing we did from the start, that made the biggest difference in our business model, as far as earnings potentials were concerned. It was a small choice, made of necessity, which influenced so very many things about how we did business. And it was probably the best choice we have ever made.
Every small business wishes they could just pay a fee to someone, and have customers come in - say you pay $2, and for that $2 you are guaranteed one sale. What business owner would not like that?
Unfortunately, marketing does not work like that. There are all kinds of marketing methods, some that work, some that do not. I'll go over a few here, and then I'll tell you how WE make sales. The same way we have been making sales for the last 15 years. Because in all that has changed in marketing, what we do is still working, is still something we don't pay for, and it is still the most effective method of marketing I've ever encountered for frugal businesses, and that includes methods that cost much more.
So... I'm only going to hit the basic online methods, and a couple of offline methods that cannot be equalled online.
1. Business cards. They work. Get your name out. But you have to work them, not just splatter them around.
2. Local networking. It works too. Even for online businesses. People buy from people they know sooner than they buy from people they don't. Develop relationships. They are especially important for service businesses and B2B.
3. Blogging. It works if you do it right. You have to publish things people WANT to read, or view - photo blogs are just as good as text blogs, but they are more powerful when you have a good description of the image. It still has to be good stuff - otherwise you are wasting your time. You also have to have it as an integral part of your website, OR crosslink it with your website and run product promotions in the sidebars, or you are wasting your time. Blog posts are permanent in a way that social media is not. Put your effort here before you put it behind a company FaceBook Page, it will do you more good, and your efforts will have lasting effect.
4. On-Site content. Instructional resources, reviews, industry standard explanations, etc. Whatever your customers want to know that makes them a better more educated customer. This works. It works in the short term and in the long term. The right information not only results in contacts, but it delivers people to you who are already persuaded that they not only want to buy, but that they want to buy from YOU.
5. Social Media. If you can use it appropriately. It doesn't work quite like you think it will. The vast majority of small business owners I know don't make a dime from promoting through FaceBook. Some make money indirectly from Twitter (using it to attract visitors). A very few make something from a presence on LinkedIn. But honestly, other than automating a feed for Google bait, you are better off spending your time doing other things! Social Media is so temporary that your efforts can be better applied to things that are permanent in effect and that build over time. Social Media can suck you dry and leave you gasping in exhaustion just trying to maintain an active presence so three people a week can comment and nobody ever goes from the page to your website to actually buy anything! There are just too many WAY more effective things that don't rely upon being the most exciting thing or persuading a person with the attention span of a gnat to elevate your product to the status of most necessary impulse purchase for the moment. I'd rather market to people than gnats. Feed your articles in. The thinkers will read, the gnats won't.
6. Online Networking. This used to be very powerful. Lately though, nobody really engages online or thinks of other people online as real people. It has lost most of the power to draw long term customers, this, in part because the old forums have disappeared, and been replaced by transient environments where everything is temporary, and people are seeking the latest bit of titilation. Not very effective for solid businesses.
7. Ads on blogs. This can work. So can blog reviews if you can actually get someone to do one on your product. If the blog is reputable, gets good traffic, and is relevant to your product, it can work well, BUT... most blog ads are overrated, and WAYYY overpriced. They bring more traffic than customers. To be worth money, they have to result in paying customers. The vast majority of blog ads are worth about $10 per month, or $25 to $50 IF they can bring in sufficient traffic to not just PAY for themselves, but to MAKE good money. Be aware that it can take 2-3 months for an ad to really pay for itself, so give it a good chance. But after 3 months, if you can't see customers paying you because of the ad, ditch it.
8. Pay Per Click. Forget it. It takes thousands of dollars to work it to the point where a positive balance can be realized from it. When you are working with small monthly budgets, you can't blow it all on something with a horrendously high fraud and false clickthrough rate either. I've used several types of this. None have resulted in a single sale. Not one sale. The bounce rate on my website is the only thing that went up with any of it (clicks where someone comes in and immediately leaves because it was not what they wanted). If you don't have a hefty budget, plus a very significant startup (work out the bugs) budget, PPC will never work for you.
9. On page LEGIT SEO. Search Engine Optimization is a valid science - unfortunately, many people who sell it as a service are still in the dark ages, perpetuating false practices, keeping myths alive, and even doing things to your site that are downright harmful. I've had to rescue many sites from SEO vandals who destroyed search engine rankings using tactics such as keyword stuffing, and completely wrecking content. The BEST SEO revolves around your content, and the writing on your site. If it is done well (so people love to read it and so people understand it), then SEO takes care of itself! And that is the real trick to GOOD SEO. All the rest - all the garbage about changing search engine algorithms, all the trash about link formats and domain names and all that are irrelevant. If your content is good, and people like reading it, and people understand it, and if people can find their way around your site easily, then YOU GOT IT NAILED! Nothing else is needed, everything else is a waste of time, and nothing short of a scam because it won't make you one more penny of money. NOTE: SEO alone won't get you traffic. It has to be partnered with a content building and link building strategy, or you are still dead in the water.
10. Blog comments. This can work, but you have to be real, and you can't spam. Don't leave a URL in the comment area! ONLY post a URL in the URL field where you are invited to do so - generally it will link to your name. Not all blogs allow this, some are friendly to it, some are not. If you post helpful comments, your own experiences with the topic, or a valid question, it will be published. If you are stupid about it, you get deleted. Expect to drop 50 comments to get one comment that really pulls people to your site. But posting those 50 is worth it for the one that pulls because it will keep doing so month after month.
WARNING: Don't pay a company to do "article marketing" for you, or to get backlinks for you. Don't pay anyone to write your content unless you know their writing personally. There are third world companies out there (and some in developed countries) who hire non-native language personnel, who write trash articles, and they HURT your reputation and do not help it. Some can actually cause liability issues for you (I've seen this). If you hire writing, expect to pay for it - $50 an article or more, for GOOD writing that people enjoy reading. Anything else is injurious to your business.
So... what works for us? A combination of strategies. It isn't something that would work for a lot of people, because it requires that you have someone on board who can produce regular writing on topics which appeal to your audience. But it works well for us, and it works for every business that we've been able to teach to do it well.
1. We write. Everything we write is published to one of our own websites, or our blog, sometimes on other websites as a guest blogger. We do not publish articles on article database websites.
2. We have personal presences on several social media sites. We set up a section on each website that we are promoting, as a blog, so that it has RSS and will ping blog directories. This way, if we post an article there, we can auto-feed the article straight to social media. That gets a few views, but it has more power with search engines than it does with people, so it gets us more indirect traffic than direct traffic. We do NOT have business pages set up. They are too time intensive to manage, and they no longer get useful views unless you pay for visibility, which I won't do because it is not worth it.
3. We network our own websites. We generally have a dozen or more websites on related topics at any one time. Some are content only, some are content and cart. Publishing on ONE of the sites will indirectly benefit all the other sites. Increases in traffic on one site will increase the traffic on all of them. Once people get into our network, they tend to float around for a while in it. The key here, is content, and a box on each website called "Related Sites", where we place links to the other relevant sites that we own. Many businesses cannot afford multiple websites, so this does not work for everyone.
4. We optimize through content, primarily. We produce information that our customers and clients are interested in.
5. I search for blog posts with similar topics, and I leave comments. I don't do this on a schedule, but I will go hunting blogs every few months to leave comments, and these result in a fair bit of traffic that converts. I've had customers tell me that they bought from me because everyone else on a blog was being negative about a topic and I was encouraging and explained what made it work right.
6. We do pay or barter for a few select ads on blogs. It is worth doing, but only with caution. In general, ONE article, posted to any one of the sites in our network, gets 10 times the traffic (or more) that a paid ad gets. The ads get some traffic. The articles get more.
That last thing is something we've only done in the last year. All the rest of our business building has been done through websites and content.
Our backlink building strategy is also wrapped up in those articles, because when you write content that people like, they link to it. A good portion of our traffic comes from people who linked to us on their blog or website. And every link there gets us even more search engine traffic.
Building traffic without spending a fortune is kind of slow to start. Generally if you don't have a network to plug a new site into, it will grow fairly slowly without some major work hustling links and customers through personal contact.
But once it gets going, it has a lot of power, and a lot of permanence. It tends to grow year by year.
There are definitely low cost marketing methods that work, and those that are a waste of time. There are also high cost methods that work for some businesses, but which are a waste for small businesses.
The best ones center on good writing skills, and rely on a sound basis in integrity.
Small Cottage Manufacturing Business with Established Customer Base and Good Google Ranking
Requires someone who is passionate about Whole and Natural Foods.
This is a SERIOUS INVESTMENT! The purchase price of this business, plus the additional funds required to make immediate improvements is between $45,000 and $55,000, depending on how the new owner chooses to operate the business and how they choose to market.
Small established customer base that is growing steadily, functioning website with shopping cart that ranks well with search engines.
This business requires someone who wants to make a product at home, and does not mind the repetition of making and perfecting a small product. Good hand skills required, must be able to use scissors, knives, and other small tools. Drill press required.
Profit margins are running approximately 60% of sales. This business makes a regular income, requiring several hours per week at this stage to operate. As the business grows, the time involved will increase, but the opportunities to make several of the processes more efficient will also increase.
Income is currently a part time income (for part time work). Please understand that this website has NEVER BEEN MARKETED! Owner has fed articles from the site into FB and Twitter, and THAT is ALL. It has grown slowly and steadily since they opened their doors, and is continuing to grow. If they had the funds to properly market this business, the growth would be far greater. It has the potential to provide a VERY GOOD full time income, without requiring so much work that the owner is always dragging and trying to keep up. Long term growth potential is limited only by the effort of the owner.
Why is the business being sold? Because the owner operates several small business lines, and the other lines are beginning to take more time and energy. This line needs someone who is passionate about the product, and who wishes to be involved in it full time in the future, not as a sideline.
The business currently offers a range of original products (including some unique inventions), which are popular within the niche it occupies. The target market for the products are very excited about the product, and LOVE that it is made in America by hand. Many of the products are in various stages of improvement, and the current business owner will assist the new owner in understanding how to implement those improvements.
This sale includes the website, domain name, some of the tools required for the business (except those common to every household, and the drill press), and all molds, templates, patterns, supply sources, branding, etc. There is NO inventory to convey with this business - items are made by hand, and need to be created by the new owner. Current owner will send instructions for all tasks, with photos. If a payment plan is used for the purchase, the owner will withhold key items which are not necessary for day to day operations but which ARE needed to sustain the business long term, until the final payment has been made.
For information on this Business for Sale, please use the Contact Page on this site to inquire. We'll put you in touch with the owner, who will be happy to provide you with more information.
There are many reasons why a website might not make enough sales to pay for itself. While there are a range of issues that can CONTRIBUTE to this problem, the largest reason by far for lack of sales on a website is TOO LITTLE TRAFFIC.
And the number one reason for too little traffic is LACK OF EFFECTIVE MARKETING. This is the case about 80% of the time.
Often, a business owner will either create a website, or pay for someone else to create it for them. They'll work hard on making sure that the colors are right, the pages show the products well, and that the cart works.
And then they walk away and wait! They assume that building a website is like setting up shop on the main street downtown - where people will see the signs, peek in the windows, and be compelled to come in and see what you've got.
Unfortunately, a website is more like opening up a store 10 miles from the nearest house, down a lane out of sight of the main road, off on a thin trail through the deepest woods, and then hidden in a cave where not even the light shines out to indicate that something is inside! Yes, it is like THAT!
Usually, after a few months, the business owner realizes that their site is not doing anything. They usually conclude that the logical thing to do is to hire someone to optimize the site, so the "search engines can find it".
SEO (search engine optimization) IS important - not in the way people think - and not the KIND of SEO that people think. But a site with poor SEO and good marketing will outdo a site with good SEO and bad marketing every time. And the BEST SEO isn't keyword optimization, or anything that shows up on any kind of computerized analysis of the site - it is just good writing. Good writing that appeals to your customers, tells them clearly what you have, in words they understand. It is as simple as that. If that is done, your SEO IS DONE!
After the business owner completes the SEO routine, they sit back and wait some more. And nothing changes! Still no sales!
In the hundreds of websites we've either owned, or managed for our clients, we noticed some patterns that hold pretty true for every website. One of them pertains to traffic and marketing.
It takes about 2-300 site visitors (on a site that is reasonably well done) to get ONE customer that actually buys something. Now, some sites can do it with fewer, some will require a few more. But usually it falls within this range.
Most initial customers to a website get there from PERSONAL contact from the site owner.
To get a site to really earn, you have to get it out there so people can find it without you having to make personal contact with each and every customer. You want THEM to start coming to YOU. To either CALL, or to BUY.
If you fail to market your website, the search engines will pick it up, and somewhere around 200 site visitors per month, the traffic will simply stop growing. Only BARELY enough to get ONE customer per month on exceptionally good sites. Not enough to get even that on the average small business website.
If you do not market the site, it will sit there, FOREVER, and NEVER increase in traffic.
Search engines KNOW it is there. No amount of optimization will make it any better. They'll only send you the traffic that does not match any other site (and that is almost nothing), or you'll get people who dig 10 or more pages deep in the search engines.
You need a few additional things to make them pay attention enough to actually SEND traffic to you.
1. Backlinks. A backlink is a link on another site that points back to your website. These can be from social media (Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc), on other websites or blogs (including ones you own yourself, IF they are good quality), or even in Gmail.
2. Activity that the search engines notice. This may include blog pings (from making blog posts), or periodic new content (even new product listings counts).
3. Something no one else has. It may be good product descriptions, a wider assortment of topics (including less common ones) related to the product or service, answers to questions nobody else is answering, information with humor and personality, or other unique bits that are distinctly different than your competitors. Search engines like what is unique, and so do people.
All of these things can be done fairly simply using a blog. Post new information on the blog on a periodic basis, send the RSS feed from the blog to your social media sites (you can do this so it is sent automatically every time you publish a post to your blog), and make sure the posts are fun and informative, and that they are written JUST for your blog (don't use recycled information). This is probably the simplest and most effective "no cost" marketing method for small businesses.
You HAVE to market your business. Either YOU do it, or you need to pay someone to do it. If you do not, you will never earn from the site. It will sit there with 200 visitors, never making a sale, and you'll wonder why you bothered to set it up in the first place.
There is no fast fix for marketing. It is something that has to be done, week after week, to keep the customers coming.
If you get the combination right, it will slowly start to pay off, and will then build momentum. Think about it like this: Suppose each post you write for your blog has the potential to bring you 1 customer per month (often it is more or less than that, but the concept still holds). It isn't much at first, but as the cumulative power builds, it ends up being really powerful.
In reality, some blog posts are more or less powerful than others, both short and long term. But the cumulative power still builds over time.
You HAVE to market. As a business owner, you have to make sure the marketing you do is effective for the long term.
Give anything you try three months before you decide it is not working, and make sure you take a hard look at your stats before you make changes - make sure that you aren't stopping something that is working (some things build slowly, but the stats will show that it is doing something before it results in customers). Website stats can also give clues to what should be adjusted when adjustments are needed.
The only time you need to look at other reasons for no sales, is if you have 1000 or more visitors per month, and are still making no sales.
If you have less traffic than that, get to work on marketing!
Let's say the kids in the neighborhood get together to play baseball. You know, like they did in the days before Little League, when it was all just for fun. They divide into teams, but before they can start playing, someone says, "Hey, I know, lets limit the points. Let's say that there are only 20 points available. No matter which team earns the points, no matter how hard we play, we can only total 20 between both the teams, so if one team earns a point, that is one less point that the other team can earn."
THAT is a Zero Sum Game.
Another way of putting it is to offer the winning team a pie to divide up between all the players on the team. They'll get a very small piece.
How many kids do you think would be on board with that plan? Or do you think maybe they'll come up with a way for the players who earn more points to get more pie, and those who earn fewer points to get less?
That is also a zero sum game. No matter how you divide it, it is just one pie.
Business is NOT a zero sum game. It is like real baseball. Each team can earn as many points as they are able to earn, in spite of the competition. Each PLAYER can earn their OWN pie. Or MORE than one pie if they have the energy and gumption to do so.
There is not a finite amount of wealth. Wealth is infinite. The more we practice good business principles (which are NOT selfish principles), and the more we seek to make sure that everybody in the picture has a chance to profit well from their efforts, the better EVERYBODY earns.
We have very negative attitudes about both competition, and pay hierarchy that get in the way of true prosperity. Those attitudes put us into a business mindset of the Zero Sum Game.
The backlash is that when a person views business in this way, they LIMIT THEMSELVES right along with limiting everyone else that they deal with.
The lack of meaningful merit based pay in most major companies is one of the things that inhibits prosperity both at the bottom of the pay hierarchy, AND for the entire company. When each person is motivated to EARN more, by more hard work, they work harder. EVERYBODY in the company, all the way to the top, profits MORE, not less.
The lack of cooperation with competitors and complimentary businesses is another inhibiting factor. Rather than saying, "I'll take this segment, you take that segment, and we'll refer each other and BOTH do better.", companies fight over the same customers, which hurts them both. There is far more scope for cooperation among competitors than is ever utilized.
We have a competitor whose supplier violated their customer confidence, and told us some inside information about our competitor. We would have liked to have informed the competitor so they could address the issue with their supplier - the information we were given has the potential to harm our competitor in the long term, if we choose to use it against them. We cannot contact the competitor though - they are so negative about their competition that they'd be rude to me if I tried to warn them. Their fear stands in the way of our being able to help them. We would be happy to cooperate with this competitor in other ways as well, but they would not ever be open to doing so.
This concept applies to the economy as a whole. When individuals are both allowed to profit from their efforts, and required to do so, the economy grows without limits, and personal prosperity is increased for the entire nation. When we think of wealth as ONLY equating to more dollars, we get into a trap that makes us think that if we do not have MORE dollars than someone else, we are not as wealthy. Wealth has more to do with how far the dollars stretch, and the kinds of comforts one can attain than it has to do with numbers. This kind of thinking equates to chopping up the pie into smaller and smaller pieces, and calling each piece a whole pie.
When we get into the trap of thinking that we have to grab a bigger piece of the pie than our competitors, or when we think that if WE earn more, that someone else has to earn LESS to compensate, we limit ourselves to a rather pathetic portion of what is possible when we stop fighting over a piece of someone else's pie, and start earning our OWN pie.
There was a period during the late '90s when many business marketing experts decried the death of the small local business, predicting that due to the popularity of the internet, local businesses that did not ship product or provide services long distance would simply become obsolete. This has not been the case - in fact, as the internet has grown, local small businesses have found ways to profit from having a local presence. Small businesses that serve a local market have some incredible strengths that national chains simply cannot compete with, online or off.
I have often heard the complaint that companies like Wal-Mart "drive small businesses out of town". This is absolutely NOT true. The small businesses drive themselves out, by failing to build on their strengths and to provide something that Wal-Mart cannot provide. The real problem with the strengths of small local businesses is that many business owners fail to realize what those strengths ARE, and they try to compete in ways that fail every time.
When you have a national online business, you are competing with millions for a tiny share of the big pie. When you have a small local business, you are competing with a much smaller market, for a larger share of the smaller pie. The potentials are just as great, perhaps greater, for a well managed local business.
They tend to try to compete in three ways, which always fail:
1. Price. Customer loyalty is never about price. Competition on price alone always fails, because someone else can always offer a lower price, and it drives your profit down so that you either cannot survive, or barely survive. Your prices should be COMPETITIVE, but they should be based on VALUE, not on some unrealistic goal to have the lowest price.
2. Variety of stock. This, again, is something small businesses simply cannot compete with big business on. Doesn't work. Wal-Mart specializes in carrying a wide variety of bestsellers. If you try to compete with Wal-Mart by carrying the same variety they carry, they'll outdo you every time. If you specialize in carrying what they DO NOT carry, and only those things that sell well for you, you can have a thriving business with more than enough revenue to keep you fat and happy.
3. Advertising dollars. Often a small business owner thinks that in order to compete with the big guys they have to have advertising money to spend. Not true. There are so many ways to market that do not require a large budget, and they are ways that the larger companies DO NOT DO WELL. Never compete with a large business on THEIR terms. Always compete in a way that is to YOUR advantage.
So, where IS the strength of small local business? What do you do to take advantage of the strengths and build your business successfully?
1. Create unique VALUE. Price and value are two different things. I can order a tool online for less than I can purchase it at the local hardware store. But I can't ask questions about it, I have to pay shipping, and I can't get it NOW. All of these things add VALUE to my purchase for me. Other things may add value as well - perhaps the tool online is made in China, and the one in town is made in America. Perhaps the tool in town comes with a better warranty. Maybe the tool in town has some other value point, particular to that store, which the one online does not have. Think about what you customers WANT, and NEED, and find ways to give them solid value for the price. Creating value that is NOT automated or standardized, but which is specific to the needs of your particular customers, is one way in which small businesses can outshine large ones every time.
2. Specialize in a NICHE. Find out who is NOT being served well in your town. Don't do what everyone else is doing! Do it differently! Sell things they AREN'T selling, but which the local people WANT. Too often, people are either selling the same things, or selling things nobody really wants badly enough to go to a separate store for them. Find the things people want badly enough to go out of their way for. Those are the things that will survive no matter how many Wal-Marts come in.
3. Make your marketing PERSONAL. The most effective marketing methods for small local businesses are very personal. Corporate does not do personal well at all. Personal marketing methods are far more effective than ad blasts anyway. They take hands-on work, and the repetition of hands-on work, but they are powerful and effective. Be helpful and kind, and carry business cards with you everywhere. Get out and network, print up sale or event flyers to scatter around, and go shake hands and smile at people. Set up a booth at trade fairs and have samples, business cards, and product to sell. Offer presentations through the Chamber, local groups that are interested in what you sell, or offer classes through a local college enrichment program.
4. Be there all the time. Ok, so you can't do that. But YOU and a WEBSITE can do that. A website can help a local business that is on a growth track, simply by being there when you cannot, with a good description of what you offer, pictures of your product or service, and contact information, business hours posted, etc. This kind of 24-7 presence can really help local businesses that have short or unpredictable hours, but it can also help those that have more standard hours. I do recommend that you stay open in the evening at least one day per week - if you are only open 9-5:00, you will shut out everyone who works during those hours, and they'll go to the big box stores instead - they won't get what they REALLY want, but you will leave them with no choice. More people go to the internet to search for local business now than those who use the Yellow Pages. So make sure when they search for your products in your town, that they can find YOU.
Local businesses have unique strengths, in presence and in personality, that long distance businesses and big box stores can rarely compete with. Take those strengths and build on them, instead of beating yourself with the limitations, and you'll open unlimited potential.
I can't count the number of times I have heard small business "experts" recommend that small business owners buy this thing, or start that service, to "validate their credibility". Usually they hand them and affiliate link to make the purchase, or sell them the product or service directly. I've heard people state that as a reason to build a website, get business cards, purchase an 800 number, get a merchant account, buy a postage meter, form a corporation or LLC, and any number of other costly purchases.
Now, at the right time, and for the right reasons, any of these things might be GOOD decisions. But if the only reason you are investing in it is to "validate your credibility" as a business, don't do it!
The myth is that they somehow convey to the world that you are a serious business owner, regardless of your need for them, or their benefit to your business. IT IS JUST A MYTH!
The thing that validates your credibility as a business, is whether you WORK the business. If YOU take the business seriously, then other people will. If YOU demonstrate integrity, it shows. THAT is what makes you credible.
If you haven't got that, then no one gives a rip whether you have a website, hand them a business card, or have T-shirts with your logo printed on them. Those things mean nothing without a leader at the helm.
The rule is this:
Make purchases based on actual NEED, FUNCTION, and REASONABLE EXPECTATION OF FINANCIAL RETURN.
- If you are sending out mail every day and the trips to the post office are getting burdensome, then a postage meter can save time - it is only a wise investment if the time you save is time that is ALREADY costing you business.
- If you market to individuals, business cards are not only wise, they are a must. If you don't, if your business is strictly online and you never mention it to anyone in person, then forget the business cards.
- If you have an online business, a website is pretty much required. If you can potentially reach a significant portion of your local audience online, or if they are the kind of people that like to look up your site, research your product or service ahead of time, and then call later, a website is a good investment. But don't invest unless you can see how it is going to actually bring you more paying customers. If the web designer can't tell you that - in a way that does NOT require that you change your business model (for example, that does not require that you ship things through the mail if you are not already doing so), then DON'T BUY! If the designer can't justify the expense in actual reasonable cash returns, they don't know their business well enough to help you anyway. Not every business needs a website. Purchasing one to validate your business credibility is a waste of money, because it won't ever pay for itself. (In general, the combination of website and marketing costs should be able to pay for itself within 1 year - most should do so 2-3 times over.)
Evaluate each expense based on solid business principles. Validating credibility is NOT a solid business principle - it is the mantra of people who don't understand business well enough to give you trustworthy information. Do the math and see if the item really CAN pay for itself, and what it would take for it to do so. If the numbers don't add up, or do not look reasonable, give it a pass, and focus on more effective uses of your resources.
Wise management of your business, and fair treatment of your customers or clients will gain you far more credibility than any nifty gadget or service. They'll get you earning at a profit sooner too.
Oh, I'll share my french fries, and my lemonade. I'll even share my chocolate ice cream and bacon.
But I won't share ownership of my company. I'm married to a great guy, and I WILL share it with him, after all, we are supposed to "be one". But I won't share it with other people, and I have very good reasons why I will not.
When I choose to launch a business, it is unique. I have a vision for that business that departs from the typical business. We did not have a web development company that was like other web development companies - we made ours special. Our farm is different than other farms, and we operate it with rules we have developed around our individual convictions. Our marketing consulting methods are different than others, and they center on particular principles that are fairly rare in the marketing world.
This is MY vision... One that my husband usually "gets". But it is one that other people usually do NOT get. Our customers and clients respond to it specifically because it is different. But other individuals in the business world rarely truly grasp the thing that sets us apart. They THINK they do. But they don't. They take the words that we use to describe what we do, and the run it through their "filter of familiarity" and what comes out is pretty much the same thing every other business of this type is doing.
Consequently, if I partner with someone, I invariably find that they do not really understand what I am going for. When you partner with someone, they have a good deal of influence over what your business becomes.
If you get a business loan, or receive funds from an investor, or even if you form a corporation with several other individuals, or go public with shares, you find that your business is now not only FUNDED by these people, it is also, to a large degree, CONTROLLED by these people. They are invariably people who only understand the common. They rarely grasp a truly individual idea. Sad, but true.
This means that as soon as your wonderful and unique business concept gets in the hands of other people who have the right to approve or disapprove of your methods, they will systematically strip it of everything unique! You will end up having a company just like all the rest, without a grain of genius left. It isn't that they MEAN to do this... they actually LIKE the idea of doing it differently. But when presented with the REALITY of doing it differently, it feels too risky to think outside themselves, so they withdraw to what they associate with being "safe". And they unconsciously torpedo any chance your shiny new idea has of succeeding, because the world does NOT need another business like all the rest. It needs something new and fresh.
I've provided services to a number of non-profit organizations, and participated in various committees to attempt to affect change. In every instance, a problem is presented, ideas are tossed around, including some VERY good and original ideas. By the time the committee finally reaches an agreement on a course of action, they are agreeing to do the same thing to solve the problem that they tried last time that didn't work, because it was the only solution that contained enough common elements for everyone to agree upon. They name it something new, but it is the same thing anyway.
More people being involved in a concept almost always dilutes true brilliance. It DOES work to consult with many individuals, and to take the best ideas from each, and to fashion them into TRULY new processes. But when ONE individual who ALREADY has a truly new process puts that process up for review before the committee, it invariably works in reverse. The new thing is stripped of originality and watered down to mediocrity.
I don't share ownership. I don't seek business loans, I don't have advisory boards, and I don't form business entities that place my daily operational choices in the hands of other people who may have so much experience with their idea of my business that they can't ever really see MY vision of what it needs to be, nor understand how this might actually work BETTER than their "low risk" recommendations.
We have found that when we stuck to our guns, the unique idea that we formulated DID in fact work better. While our ideas were NOT suitable for EVERY customer, they were superior for OUR target market. Because for every handful of people looking for "the usual" solution, there is one that wants the very difference we can provide - and THEY are our target market. A market that is typically large enough to provide us with all the business we can handle.
Why would I want to sacrifice that, and give up the wonder and delight of really helping people who would not be helped otherwise?
Small business is amazing specifically for the capacity to reach vast numbers of people who fall through the cracks of the corporate service and product world. Big business operates on the "lowest common denominator" principle, and does not sell one of anything unless they can sell millions. Small business, on the other hand, can do a whopping good annual turnover serving a tiny fraction, and can do it better, and more personally, specifically to those customers whom big business thinks are beneath their notice.
If you involve a committee of big business advisors though, you will end up with a clone of a mega corporation, in miniature, which is doomed to failure because it CANNOT compete with big business.
What is unique is what is ESSENTIAL to the success of small business, and it takes looking at things from a different angle to bring that from concept to success. When I have "those" kinds of ideas, I want to KEEP them fresh and original.
Ownership of my business, and my ideas are things I do NOT share.
We owned a Sole Proprietorship for many years. We then filed as a Corporation, which we held for almost 5 years, before reverting back to a Sole Proprietorship.
Having been there, I have to say I we will choose from this point forward to avoid filing as a Corporation again. Since we reverted, I have learned that the reasons why we initially chose to go back to a Sole Proprietorship are only a handful of the many reasons why we would not now file as a Corporation.
The reasons commonly given for needing a corporate structure are completely false. The most common reason is that it offers "more legal and financial protection".
This is actually not true. There are in fact very few instances in which it offers more than a Sole Proprietorship, and in those instances, there are simple ways to replace that protection with something equally, or even more effective, and a whole lot less expensive.
Liability. Company decisionmakers are often named personally in liability suits. Protection gone. Insurance can be purchased to do the job more effectively.
Bankruptcy. Only relevant if your company carries fairly significant debt, AND if your company is over three years old, AND if your company actually has a good credit rating. Prior to three years (more on many debts), a garantor is required - that's right, YOU assume the risk, not the company. No protection. None. And if you DO have an older company, and the company liquidation fails to yield sufficient to pay the creditors, they will often go after decisionmakers personally, in a personal lawsuit. Avoidance of debt eliminates the need for concern, and it is easier to start a company without debt if it is NOT a corporation.
What a corporation does, is increase your costs.
Taxes are more complex for corporations, and corporations must pay employment taxes on everybody, including the owner, which are not required for Sole Proprietors. If you do not hire employees (and there are many ways to expand without doing so), you are still forced to go through all the hassle of HAVING employees with a corporation, simply because that is what YOU become when you own a corporation.
Regulations are more complicated for corporations as well, which increases costs and time for compliance. Typically corporations will actually take on more of a regulatory burden than they need to as well. The profit hit from this can be minor, to monstrous.
Liability insurance costs more. A lot more. Because people are more likely to sue a corporation than a Sole Proprietor.
The ONE benefit we found, was that SOME customers took us a little more seriously, and thought that the "inc" legitimized us more so it was easier to make the sale with those people. This difference was small enough that the additional costs did not make it worth it.
We got more calls from sales people, more time wasted by charities calling for handouts, and more time wasted by people wanting to network but not knowing what it really meant (in other words, they wanted to take advantage of us without offering anything in return).
So why does everyone say that you get more protection as a Corporation? Very simply... their information all comes from the same four sources:
1. The Government. The government PROFITS from corporations more than from sole proprietorships. They have a motive for recommending them. Schools, colleges, the SBA, and most other "official" sources that you search will use information originally produced by the government. State governments also make more from corporations, and may not even have a fee for sole proprietors.
2. Lawyers. It costs about $500 (probably more now) to have a lawyer draw up Articles of Incorporation. What he does is this... He hands your info to his secretary, who opens up a standard boilerplate document, puts your name in the name field, sticks the date in the date field, puts the officers names where they belong, and the corporate address where it goes, prints that out, and sends it off to the Capitol of that state with the required fee. Nice profit on 5 minutes of work. Really! Of COURSE they are going to recommend that you incorporate, there are no legal fees for a sole proprietorship.
3. Accountants. The bookkeeping for a corporation is much more complex than for a sole proprietorship. The majority of sole proprietors do their own books. Follow the money. There is a definite financial motive for accountants to recommend a more complex business structure.
4. Specialists, Experts, Consultants, and other assorted writers, all of whom have received their information from one of the above three sources. None of them have actually done the research to see if it is true, they simply assume that it MUST be true. Even if they suspect it is not, they will not have the courage to say so... after all, most of them make more money from corporations. Sole proprietors hire consultants less often, and pay much less for them.
Now, I know some good accountants. Unfortunately at this time I can't say I know ANY good lawyers, though I do know OF a few that I'd trust with my life. This is not a condemnation of anyone in particular, just pointing out that once a statement is made about business, and endorsed by someone with the power to proliferate it to everyone that has the power to say so, the statement is taken as fact, even when it is far from true. This is the case with MANY business concepts, methods, and recommendations.
So no, I would not file as a corporation again. I will not hire employees, and I will continue to make money more efficiently, and keep more of it for the needs of my family.
Been there. Don't want to go back.
Most business people find themselves trapped in a situation at some point where there is simply no way to earn more. They may be working long hours to get product out, and see no way to earn more, because there are no more hours in the day. They may be charging for services by the hour and be at the top of what they can charge without losing their target market.
There are many teachable strategies which can help business owners move past this kind of income ceiling into a place where they have strategies to increase their income dramatically, and to increase their output more than they thought they could.
Each of these strategies includes a concept, and then the application of the concept within your business. They can be adapted to all businesses, but the way in which they are used varies widely with the type of business.
We have owned and operated more than one kind of business, and have found that there is almost always a way to achieve three simultaneous goals:
- Better value for the customer
- Less work for the business owner
- Higher income for the business owner
We earned more and produced a better product or service for our customers, and it was less of a hassle to produce it. We were then able to teach these strategies to our clients and students. If I had not seen it in effect in more than one area, I'd not believe it - but I do, because I've seen it work over and over.
When people see the product we make, they are amazed that it is made at home. It is as though they cannot imagine that a product CAN be manufactured at home unless it is made of yarn or wood.
We make an airlock lid for canning jars. Our work involves drilling holes in plastic lids, trimming the rough edges off the holes, and inserting a one-way valve into the hole. There is no source for the one-way valve. THIS is the part that makes our product unique. We invented the valve, and invented the process to manufacture it at home.
If you want to make a product at home, you need to not only know how to make the product, you also have to be able to obtain, or make, the tools to make the product.
In our case, that meant I had to create a mold for a product that had never before been seen. Before I could create the tool to create the part, I had to find a way to make the part without the tool!
In this instance, I went hunting through a hardware store, just looking for things that could be used to make something like what I wanted. And I found them! We took them home, created a prototype, tested it, and then made a mold from it.
Making the mold was a little more complicated than just making a cast of the item, since it required a multi-part mold, and a way to pour in the silicone without the need of injection equipment. That took some creativity, and some experimentation.
This process was the beginning for us, of really helping us realize the potential for home manufacturing as a form of home business. And to help us realize the many benefits it provides.
The regulatory burden on our business is very light, keeping our costs down. Our tax burden is similarly light, which further reduces costs. We distribute direct to the customer, so we do not have to take a reduction in earnings to sell wholesale so they can be mass distributed. In fact, our profit margins are at a point that most companies would consider to be impossible to achieve.
Our business is "green", because we not only eliminate a great deal of unnecessary transportation (by selling direct from the point of manufacture), but we also use equipment and a setup that is environmentally friendly. Just a corner of the livingroom, and a few common shop tools.
What we did is actually NOT that extraordinary! The kinds of things that can be made at home are far more than anyone realizes, and many of the specialty tools for doing some really cool stuff, are less costly than we think. It is possible to build a pretty amazing business on a fairly low budget, and bootstrap your way up - purchasing better equipment and making the processes more efficient as you go.
Our first molds were pretty rough. We periodically think of ways to improve them, and ways to improve the methods we use for making the other products we make alongside the lids. Each product we have chosen to make has followed that same procedure - first figuring out if we CAN make it, then devising a way to make it fast enough to actually earn good money from doing it, then gradually improving on that as sales increase.
We have done this with every business we have owned, and have found that there is almost ALWAYS a way to do something, and there are usually ways to improve from there, so that the longer you are at it, the more you can earn.
You really can't quite grasp what I'm talking about if you have not either attempted this process, or seen someone else go through it. It is a series of miracles and innovations, leading to something deceptively simple. And it is possible to achieve it for virtually any product, though some would be too impractical to adapt.
Products do not have to be developed in a research lab, and they do not have to be manufactured in a factory.
If you've got an idea for a product, and you know you can never afford to have someone make it for you, then consider how you might go about making it yourself, with tools on hand. Find other crafty or mechanical people to brainstorm with and see what you come up with. The results may surprise you, and you may just be on your way to a whole new way of earning from home.