Friday, December 13, 2019

About Business Cards

My current business card, front and back.

In the previous post, I wrote about social media.  Now it's time to talk about old-school media.  Business cards.

Once upon a time, you could just "bump" your smartphone against someone else's to give them your contact information.  Pretty neat, huh?  Unfortunately, Google killed Bump—the app for this—several years ago.  I couldn't find out if anything has replaced it.  It's possible there's a similar feature lying hidden in my Android phone, but if so, I can't find it.

And that's why I carry business cards.  That little piece of flimsy cardboard, with an eye-catching, colorful image, lists the two easiest ways to reach me:  My web site and my e-mail address.  It's got my phone number, too, but like most people, I rarely answer the phone these days. It's also got a few lines about what I do, as a memory jog for the recipient.

When I hand it to you, you don't have to deal with any technology.  Just stick it in your wallet or pocket.

In my studio desk, I have a drawer full of other people's business cards, held together in tidy packets with rubber bands.  Over time, a rubber band loses the property that makes it useful, or it breaks, and I have to replace it every few years.  When someone hands me a business card, I first stick it in my wallet, and then when I get home, I stuff it into one of these packets.

Recently, it occurred to me that I haven't looked at any of these cards since I put them away.  Ever.  Maybe I'm not the right person to hand a business card to.  But that doesn't mean I won't stop handing out mine.  It may remind the person I gave it to that I'm here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Does Social Media Work?

In  my last post, I wrote about keeping a mailing list.  Now let's talk about social media.

Social media fills in those awkward moments when the conversation stops while you're waiting for your waiter to arrive with the pad thai.  You can scroll for the latest reviews of the restaurant's service.  But social media can also be a useful tool for reaching out to collectors and students, both potential and actualized—so long as you don't get sucked into the time sink.

I minimize my time on social media, preferring to automate my activity.  I've used both Hootsuite and Buffer, but I prefer Buffer.  It has a more seamless way of allowing one to grab an image from a web page and schedule a post about it.  The free version of Buffer—which I use—allows me to schedule up to ten posts per social media account for up to three accounts.  In my case, this is Twitter, Instagram and my Facebook studio page.  When my buffer is "empty," I make a cup of Scottish breakfast tea, sit down at my computer, and spend maybe thirty minutes pulling images of paintings off my web site and scheduling posts about them.

The scheduling is very flexible.  I have my posts scheduled to occur about twice a week at different times of day.  Once my "buffer" is empty again, I get an email about it, and so I sit down with some tea and do more posting again.

Thirty minutes a week or so.  Not bad.  But then there's followup.  Once or twice a day, I go to Instagram and Facebook to see how many "likes" I've received and to answer any comments that might have been made.  Sometimes, I feel like a rat pushing a lever for pellets; I get just enough "likes" to keep me online, posting and checking.  Comments are usually "Nice work" or something to that effect.  I don't answer these, but if someone makes a more elaborate remark or asks me a question, I do answer.

Does any of this work?  Some artists have great success with social media.

In my next post, I'll write about business cards and other physical marketing materials.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Keeping a Mailing List

MailChimp offers good reporting tools for my mailing list

In my last post, I wrote about my art database.  Now, let's talk about mailing lists.

As I have said elsewhere, my mailing list is my most prized possession.  I have found that sending out regular newsletters and announcements is, for me, far more effective than social media.  My mailing list consists mostly of qualified contacts—collectors, students and others who are interested in new paintings, workshops or painting retreats.   Many of them are repeat buyers and repeat students.

I previously used Microsoft Word, Access and Outlook for my newsletters.  I kept my contacts in Access, created my document in Word and then used the mail merge tool to pull contacts from Access, insert them in Word and send the letters via Outlook.  Cumbersome?  You bet.

Then I discovered MailChimp.  It does everything Word, Access and Outlook used do, only seamlessly.  But best of all, it maintains my mailing list.  That is, it cleans the list as it encounters hard and soft bounces.  (A "hard" bounce means that the email or mail server no longer exists; "soft" means that the person's mailbox is filled or that there is some temporary glitch.)  Hard bounces are cleaned immediately; soft bounces are cleaned only after a certain number of attempts.  Finally, it reports who opened what—and who didn't—and offers a variety of useful statistics.  There's a lot more MailChimp can do, but I find mailing, list maintenance and reporting to be sufficient for me.

There's a free version, which is limited to 2000 contacts.  For most of us, that's all we need.  For those who have a larger fan base, $9.99/month will let you have up to 50,000 contacts.  If you're super-popular or have purchased a mailing list, you can pay $299/month to maintain 200,000 or more names.

In my next post, I'll write about social media.  Yes, again!  I know I've written about it before, but things have changed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

My Painting Database

A screenshot from my art database (Open Office Base)

In my last post, I spoke generally about making a living as an artist.  Now I want to delve into details.

A professional painter—or even a hobbyist, who wants to keep track of things—needs a computerized system to record paintings and sales.  Sure, you can keep a paper ledger for all of that, but a digital version makes it much easier at year-end to prepare taxes and reports and to create mailings.   Although there are several systems you can purchase, I've been using a simple database and a simple spreadsheet for many years.

Although I once used Microsoft Office's Access and Excel, these days I find it more economical to use OpenOffice, which is free.  (I'm glad I've moved away from Microsoft Office, but I stand on false moral high ground; rather like a meat-eater who has turned vegetarian with the mistaken idea that it is better for the environment.  Microsoft Windows is still my operating system.)  Of the different OpenOffice modules, I use only two for record-keeping, Base and Calc.

I use Base to:
  • Record information about paintings (inventory number, title, size, medium, creation date, exhibits, special notes, etc.)
  • Sales information (purchaser and contact information, sale date, price, where sold, etc.)
  • Export new buyers to a mailing list
I use Calc to:
  • Record sales and other business income (for me, this includes writing and teaching)
  • Record expenses
  • Create year-end reports on income and expenses
  • Compare the data of successive years (e.g. how did this year's income-to-expense ratio compare with last year's, and did art sales do better than teaching?)
  • Collate information for tax reporting

None of this is rocket science, as they say, but there is a learning curve.  Mine was short because I used databases and spreadsheets a lot back when I worked in IT.  If you're comfortable in building a system like this, you might try it.  But if you'd prefer, get a store-bought solution.

What about images? Although you can link an image to a record in Base, the database quickly become unwieldy.   (MS Access isn't much better.)  Anyway, it's rare when I actually need to view an image when I look up a record; I'm usually more interested in the information noted there.  Instead, I use Google's Picasa to keep a database of my images.

Google, alas, has retired Picasa.  You can't get it now.  I still have it on my computer and plan to continue using it, since new-and-improved Google Photos doesn't have anywhere near the capability of Picasa.  There are, of course, other programs out there, such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, that will do a decent job.  The day my computer crashes, rolls and burns, I'll probably move to Elements.

I keep images of my paintings in folders, with the filename of each image containing the title and inventory number.  With Picasa, I can easily find the image I want, using the inventory number or title from Base.  All in all, the three of these together—Base, Calc and Picasa—meet all my needs for record-keeping.

Picasa screenshot

Speaking of computer crashes, how many of you have had a crash and lost everything?  Having been in the IT, where data is your lifeblood, I'm more paranoid than most about keeping backups.  I have three drives besides my main computer.  One I have attached to my computer at all times, and it backs up new data on demand with Beyond Compare.  Once every couple of weeks, I add a second drive and back up everything to that, using Windows Backup.  Once every month, I back up my computer to a third drive, using AEOMI.  One drive stays in my office and also travels with me between my winter and summer studios; the other stays in a separate building, in case there is a fire in the studio or house.  I also keep three or four versions of backups on each drive. I am fairly confident that, from one of these drives, I can pull a recent backup if necessary.   I sleep well at night.

Below are a few screenshots of Calc.  In my next post, I'll write about mailing lists.

Income summary sheet

Expense summary sheet

Income-to-expense ratio graph

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Making a Living at Art

What's a tripod got to do with making a living? Read on!

Several years ago, a student asked if I'd teach a workshop on the business of painting.  I declined.  At the time, I felt that I'm no expert.  I still feel this way.  On the other hand, I've been running my art business successfully for 20 years now.  I thought it might be time to write a few posts on how I do things.  But as they say, "Your mileage may vary."  What works for me may not work for you.

In this post, let's talk about making a living from painting.  It's hard.  It's very hard.  Despite all the helpful coaching seminars, videos and newsletters, you'll not be successful unless you have the drive and the creativity.  Drive consists of primal need and persistence.  You were hungry then, are hungry now, and will always be hungry.  The thought foremost in your mind, from sunrise to sundown, is to remedy that.   And that's where creativity helps.  Yes, you'll study the usual methods for hunting and trapping game and farming, but survival depends on your being able to invent a solution when a plague or blight comes along that's not addressed in the manual.

Did I mention talent or skill?  No.  Looking at many of the paintings that sell today, I'm not sure if these are relevant.  Did I mention a deep-set yearning to paint?  No.  Some desire helps, but it's not that important.  When I was a bartender, my goal in life certainly wasn't to make the perfect banana daiquiri, yet despite that, I got tips and a paycheck.

I am a hard worker.  I answer e-mail at 4 in the morning.  I draft a magazine article while the coffee is percolating.  I add a few remedial touches to whatever's on the easel before breakfast.  The rest of the day is more of the same, with longer sessions at the easel or computer, plus frequent breaks that include tea with Trina and walks with Raku.

But I don't just paint for a living.  I also write and teach.  Although my painting sales each year are respectable, they wouldn't feed me all year.  Also, I don't think it is smart to depend on just painting sales.  The Dow goes up, the Dow goes down, recession hits.  I like to have two other means of making a living.  Neither writing nor teaching by themselves would allow me to buy my pricey organic vegetables.  But together, these three things make the legs of a very stable tripod.  They make a living.

In my next business post, I'll share how I keep track of my paintings.