I've been meaning to write this blog post for several weeks now. It started out as 10 mistakes because there have been many and I will undoubtedly make some more, but I couldn't arrive at an even 10. I just returned from a trip to Cuba as a celebration to myself for accomplishing something which I'll share later. It took soooo much effort for me to book this trip. I could think of every reason not to do it, but in the end, I knew I was resisting it because it felt "too good". I'll be getting into that later as well. As a full-time artist for 3 years now, I can share a lot of the ups and downs and lessons along the way. If they resonate with you, cool. If you'd like to add to this list, please share some in the comments. As awkward as it can get on social media, I still believe in the value of transparency and sharing your story. SO here's mine. Mistakes first
#1 Undercharging/undervaluing my work
This is a touchy one because, after all, what is the "value" of art in a monetary sense? There are so many factors that goes into pricing artwork. Experience. Status. Target audience. Market. Financial climate. Heck, even the artist's pulse (still alive?). And so, while there is no finite way to gauge what to charge, I made the mistake like so many artists starting out of charging way below what I really wanted for a given painting. The downside is that when you continue to sell yourself short, it becomes a habit and it can be harder down the road to raise your prices in time for your new mindset.
#2 Not celebrating the little wins
This one has probably been said a thousand times before. But I noticed something. Celebrating wins should start small because just like the point above, it becomes a habit. I remember the first time I actually let a positive email sink in. I was two years into my business, in the hustle and bustle of every day tasks, and like so many other fan emails, I was going to archive this one and keep it moving. But it hit me: this person took a moment out of their life to share how much my work meant to them. I was so focused on not letting the praise get to me, because I didn't feel like I deserved it, or that I had put in enough skin in the game so-to-speak. This is very self-sabotaging. When something less than ideal would show up in my inbox or messages, I would focus on it for days at a time. But a positive remark, an unexpected sale, or reaching a new milestone, I would quickly gloss over it and keep my "eyes on the prize." Except there was no prize in sight. This is it. This is the prize, every single day I get to do what I love, and it took me a few years to realize that.
#3 Neglecting to pay myself
A rookie mistake, no doubt, but one that many small business owners make in the beginning. I was paying everyone else but myself. It wasn't until I got a bookkeeper upon my return back to the USA in 2016 did I decide to get more intentional about my finances. Up until this point, any sales I made from my art circled right back into my business, expenses, more supplies, courses, etc. But I had no idea how much money I, the artist, was actually earning. I realized the need to separate myself from the art entity and the best way to do that is by paying myself a salary every few weeks. It's also pretty standard procedure for any business owner in the US. But again, rookie mistake (hire a bookkeeper). Now, it feels nice to actually pay myself and set money aside for me personally. I have a healthy balance and separation from my personal finances and my professional ones. I also feel rewarded for my hard work each time I send myself a salary.
#4 Comparing myself to other artists online
The internet makes it really easy to "measure" yourself up to someone else. The problem is, we're only seeing a snapshot of what people choose to share with us online. Very few people I followed online chose to be candid about the realities of running an art business. A closer look at private Facebook groups and comments reveal a completely different reality beyond the shiny photos. Panic attacks, insomnia, poor health, self-doubt, and a complete neglect of other interests outside of making money, just to name a few. The more I would look to other artists for validation and camaraderie, the more isolated I began to feel. Instead, I needed to focus on what was in front of me and what mattered most.
Today, I realize that I don't want a business like someone else's. I want a business that's uniquely mine and crafted from the heart. That means a lot of days of not knowing what the future holds, but I owe it to myself to embrace that unknown and enjoy the journey that is my own.
#5 Not documenting my work
I remember the first time I was approached by a licensing company. It was in 2014, I was one year into selling my artwork online, and I was completely unprepared. I was hiring a photographer to come and capture my work, but turns out, he was not a true professional and many of the images I had paid him for were useless to the licensing company. I had to scrounge around the city and collect back my work from collectors, luckily many of which were still in town, and re-shoot everything. It was a costly lesson, but a necessary one. Now, I have my work professionally photographed by a local photographer who specializes in documenting artwork. This is vital for the longevity and integrity of my business and helps protect my rights as an artist.
Can you think of any more mistakes to add?
Also, remember that win I mentioned earlier? I recently celebrated it and I'm happy to say that I paid off my student loans. When I graduated university years ago, I thought it would take me the next two decades to pay off my debt. I even derailed going to law school because I didn't want to add to the tab. I never imagined I'd be able to do it in 3 years and let alone from my art sales. It may not be that big of a deal to some people, but to me, as the first person in my family to attend college, I am so grateful. Thanks to the many collectors and patrons who have supported me these past few years, this dream has become a reality. No doubt, much of my traction has been because of social media. I've shared almost everyday online, particularly on Facebook and Instagram.
Instagram got me my first licensing deal.
I sell paintings on Instagram every month.
I've built a community of fans on Instagram.
This platform means a lot to me and so many other creatives, and it is here to stay. I'm obsessed with teaching people how to use the platform, and last year I decided to offer online trainings to other artists to use the platform more effectively.
Now, we're launching a free 7-day program to inspire you to post more effectively. If you'd like to join the #insanelyinspiredinstagram tribe, please visit the course site below.
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