Artist & Creator Event #2 - Tips, Tricks and Best Practices For Your Business

It was a little over two months but we finally got a chance to host our second Artist & Creator Event!  Once more, we worked with Hurry Curry of Tokyo in downtown Seattle to host a small event where Rowan gathered a variety of artists and creators to go over questions everyone had about artist alley, selling, online storefronts and more! 

Gathering together such a talented group of people brought up a lot of great ideas, best practices and other tricks that we hope you find useful! 

While there, we took the questions asked and workshopped answers to them; these aren't the end-all and be-all for artist alley or online sales but are a good stepping off point for you if you're curious about the process or want to grow your audience! 

Want to learn a little more? Check out the Q&A below! Our last Q&A can be found here

1. How do I go about finding partners for potential projects I want to do?

  • Social media was the biggest response to this. Artists mentioned searching through hashtags for their favorite fandoms and partnering with other artists. 
  • For cosplay, searching after conventions for photos with composition that you like, with a costume you feel is well done, or editing that appeals to you. Most professional cosplayers/editors/photographers have a list of information as to who was involved in this process. 

    2. How do I loop in partners I've found for product or content creation? 

    • Great! You've found someone you're interested in working with! Make sure that you look through their social media and/or website to contact them in their preferred method. For example, if they are an artist with their email in their bio for business contacts, don't send them a DM on Twitter, or just tweet at them. 
    • When pitching to potential clients/partners, make sure that you include all relevant information and that your email is clear, concise and pays attention to any requirements the other party may have. 
    • Whenever you enter business together (which this is!) it's important to have a contract, an email thread, or some sort of paper trail that protects both sides. Think about including important information such as who is paid what amount, what timeline, what work is expected, and so on. Ideally, this should be in a statement of work (SOW) or in the invoice specifically.  
    • You might think that having a paper trail, invoice, or set of requirements is "too serious" but ultimately it's for your protection and the other side's protection!


    3. The steps to managing a project are so much more involved than people realize. What are the best practices for managing projects, client/maker communication, cost negotiation, and pricing/valuing your work appropriately? 

    • We talked a little about managing projects back in the last blog post, recommending apps such as Trello and Asana for project management.  
    • Most projects have the same general timeline from start to finish. This looks like:
      • Sourcing and negotiation
      • Initial concepts and revisions
      • Delivery of final files
      • Shipping, handling, fulfillment
    • Once you've gotten a handle on what your pipeline generally looks like it's much easier to break those down into checklists based on how long they take. This is also where contracts come in! If your contract says a client has 5 days to respond, it keeps projects from going stale. 
    • For client/maker communication, the easiest thing you can do is make sure you respond to emails needing response no slower than a day or two (except for weekends) to keep things going. Ideally, this is same day but that's not always realistic. This applies to both sides but is vital in making sure the project keeps on a timeline. Communicating all issues/errors/timeline problems as soon as they come up is also important but make sure that you're ALSO communicating how you intend to solve them. 
    • For pricing and valuing your work appropriately, there's no easy one size fits all solution as every creator is different and every product differs in its cost and complexity. One way someone used to determine everything is taking their minimum wage gained at their full-time place of employment, adding in the cost of goods (COGS), time, etc, and dividing that by the number of hours. In general, you want to make 3 times what you put into something for good margins. 

    4. How do taxes work as a small business/self-employed person?

    • We can't give specific advice as we aren't an accounting agency. However, good things to keep in mind: 
      • Filing quarterly is more time consuming/complicated than yearly but can be safer. 
      • An option to make expenses easier to track is having a PayPal debit card or another card you ONLY use with regards to business. 
      • Don't forget write-offs. Events like the one we all attended are work! You get to write off a portion of that cost which can help at the end of tax season. 

    5. Digital-only marketing strategies - what if you're not an artist that has the ability to do extensive traveling and tabling at conventions and shows? How do I curate an audience primarily through social media and posted portfolio work?

    • Cross-promotion with other artists/creators in your niche. 
    • Trying to angle for more in-person events. Talking to locations about hosting your art in person, or doing collaborative events, trying to get your name out there. 
    • Treating your online presence like a business: specific posting times, content, etc. 
    • A note that came up is that, while unfair, artists who have the ability to travel to in-person events will have an easier time promoting themselves than those who cannot.  In-person events and travel can be an invaluable resource for someone trying to "break-in" to the industry and get known but isn't possible for everyone. 

    6. What if I have trouble staying on task or managing systems like Asana/Trello/etc? 

    • An "accountability buddy" was brought up as an option - someone that you work with intermittently who keeps you on task and you do the same. This is not going to be a fit for everyone and will depend on the situation/needs of both sides. Making sure that the emotional/time investment required is equal; emotional support is its own kind of work and is unpaid.
    • Remote group working - Skype sessions or other where everyone sets aside a chunk of time to work on their respective projects and collaborates. 
    • A few attendees mentioned the Pomodoro Technique

    7. I know how to make stickers but don't know how to make anything else. 

    • The good news is if you know how to make stickers, you're already pretty well prepared for how to make other things. Stickers generally require specific formatting, sizing, color, etc. If you can follow the manufacturing guidelines for that, it's very easy to apply that to other things! If you have an item you want to make, reach out to the manufacturer and ask them about any templates or guidelines they have (if it's not readily available on their site.) 

    There were a few older questions that had some additional information added to them, based on the newer attendees. 

    1. How do I continue to grow my audience/reach?  

    • Instagram has a feature that's similar to Twitter's version of "moments". They're called highlights, and allow you to create themes/pictures in a thread. You can also set the privacy of these in case of family, or nsfw. 
    • While Twitter may not let you RT your own thread as effectively, you can create a new tweet and link to your old one which helps. 
    • Don't forget about Australian/EU fans! Prime posting hours can be 11 PM to 6 am which can be boosted for the early morning east coast and later again around lunch. 

    2. How do I market my online store? 

    • Figure out what your 'brand' is and try to tailor what you do to it. Is that a color scheme, a method of marketing yourself, or the type of items you make? Consider this as your version of a watermark on your art - what defines you? 
    • As mentioned before, @Zambicandi on Twitter does a great job of this. 

    3. What successful methods do you use to market your online store? 

    • Consider monthly email blasts rather than emails every time you launch a new item. Tie in all of your new releases at the same time and do it in the middle of the month rather than the start/end. 
    • Privy and MailChimp are both options for email marketing newsletters, but there are many others. Most cap out at a number of users/subscribers. 
    • Putting a well-cropped image onto your Twitter posts to obtain a higher engagement rate. 
    • If you do original items, focus on your niche rather than too much of everything. 

    4. How can I tell if a convention is worth attending? 

    • Most agreed that attending a first-year convention is really only safe if you can afford failure/loss. In general, going a second year is safer and most conventions have some kinks worked out by that point. 
    • Keep a spreadsheet where you track all costs. Taxes, hotels, expenses you encounter. This gives data as to if a con was good, rather than relying on a feeling. 
    • Has the convention changed locations? Changed locations historically have resulted in lost sales. 
    • Tracking your sales based on fandom you were in/catering to can help you understand sale spikes and ebbs. 

    5. How can I make product without a lot of money to invest upfront? 

    • Preordering or Kickstarters are safe bets. Kickstarter allows more visibility and promotes more of a sense of community; it's got the benefit of name/brand recognition. 
    • Kickstarter is great but know that you won't get your funds until at least 7-14 days after the KS completes. Bake that into your time. 
    • Gumroad is another option - it does physical and digital but will not issue you your money until a pre-order is finished. 

    That's a wrap for this event! Thank you so much to all attendees who helped! We'll be hosting the next one in mid-October at a new location so keep an eye out for the details. If you have questions you'd like to ask for us to answer, feel free to email rowan @ to have them included and discussed!

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