FIVE MISTAKES PERFORMANCE ARTISTS AND PERSONAL BRANDS MAKE IN BUILDING THEIR FIRST BUSINESS (AND A LITTLE LOVE STORY)
This post is actually very close and personal to our hearts as Mishie and I (co-founders of The Future is Creative) started dating when she hired me to strategise and create her YouTube channel while living in Bali, Indonesia.
90% of the people we worked with it simply came down to an issue with mindset or a belief that was causing them to struggle.
What made Mishie different was the way she approached her brand and business (which is one of the reasons I fell in love with her). She had the right mindset and was determined to learn any skills she lacked to see her vision come to reality.
Below is a collection of our best advice to both performance artists and personal brands in making a living out of their creative passion.
1) Mistake #1: Belief in “The Starving Artist”
The very first thing and the most important factor in any creative business venture is the right mindset. This is even more important for performance artists and personal brands as their craft is deeply personal and forward facing for the world to see. Enter stage left, “The Starving Artist” This is one of the classic lies (I don’t think lie is too strong of a word) that creatives love to repeat over and over. It’s become epidemic among creatives that “we all need to struggle” and that creatives almost need to be poor in order to not “sell out” or become commercial.
Many creatives blindly follow the mantra and romanticized notion that creativity and art is more legitimate if it was made by poor people. This toxic idea comes from one single book written in the mid 19th century by Henri Murger, who wrote Scènes de la vie de bohème. The book follows a group of hip but poor artists living in the Bohemian quarter of Paris.
The book was extremely popular and it became trendy to be a poor artist (the original hipsters). So many creatives refuse to take a business class, learn busineses fundamentals, brush up on finance, and then wonder why they are struggling. We live in a world where the Future is Creative.
Technology and automation are rapidly destroying traditional and manual labour sectors. Even the “service sector” is seeing rapid automation through machine learning and automation. The only good paying and rewarding careers left will be for creatives. Think 3D printer product designers, virtual reality creators, and new forms of entertainment. The takeaway here is simple. If you want to be the angry and jaded creative that blames the “system” for their poverty…well, that’s just the reality you will create. Artisans in the 19th century used to pack up their horse and cart with their wares and travel form town to town shouting at the top of their lungs on the goods they were peddling. Ask your self, what have you done?
2 ) Mistake #2: Failure to Invest in Yourself and Your Business
Now, there is “BootStrapping” or launching a business on a shoestring budget and then there is being unrealistically cheap.
When Mishie was ready to launch her hula hoop retreat in Bali I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. In my mind, no one was going to pay $1500.00 USD to learn hula hooping (especially hippie hula hoopers!) and fly across the world to do it. Seven months later her retreat had sold out and she was turning people away.
How was she able to do this? Especially since she was relatively unknown in the global hooping community and a new personal brand. Here are some of the things she did:
- She put aside $5000 to invest in her business: Right away she established the mindset and tone for her entire venture. She was willing to focus on her strengths and contract out the elements that were crucial for her success (and that she felt difficult).
- She created free professionally made tutorials: She gave the hula hooping community something of value and established a quality connection to her audience. It also helped demonstrate her credibility.
- She hired a graphic designer to create a polished looking website and brand: A quality brand with a polished website builds trust and authority. This is key when people are going to take out their credit cards and purchase from you. Especially a high ticket item such as a retreat!
Of course there are lots of stories of people building a business from nothing which is really inspiring. However, starting with a modest amount can be crucial in even the way you approach your business. Mishie was willing to invest and potentially lose $5K and this was not some side hustle or weekend hobby.
Personal Brands and Performance Artists – YOU are the product! Therefore, going cheap or bootstrapping your brand/business is really shooting yourself in the foot. If you were a jewelry designer, would you go with cheap looking plastic for your first product?
3) Mistake #3: Not Knowing Your Target Market
Definition time. Target Market: A specific group of consumers at which a company aims its products and services . Your target customers are those who are most likely to buy from you.
Businesses tend to make two mistakes when it comes to target market:
1. They have no idea at all who their target market are. They try to sell to everyone and anyone. (crazy, right?!) So much wasted time and money trying to sell to the whole world instead of the people who actually want your product.
2. They don’t niche down or get very, very specific of who that target market is.
When I say specific and who your target market is…I really mean it. It’s much, much more than “Females aged 20-30”
No way. You want to know:
- Where they shop
- What words or slang they use
- What problem do they have that needs solving
- How they feel when they use your product or service
- What is their budget? Broke university students? Well-paid professionals?
- What they value (or what are their values)
- And much more
Example: Remember before when I said I couldn’t believe that Mishie would sell $1500.00 USD tickets to her retreat to “hippie hula hoopers” Most people would think that hula hooping is already a super niche target market. However, in every niche or group there are so many ways to target even deeper. She was selling to the hula hooper that:
- Wanted a real vacation and to learn something at the same time ( $1500.00 does not seem so crazy for a tropical vacation + learning from some of the best teachers in the world)
- Didn’t want to stay in dorm rooms or bunk beds. (Essentially not 21-year-old broke university students)
- Had professional jobs and were willing to pay a premium for quality and intensive instruction
- Wanted to learn in a warm, inclusive, and nurturing environment
Last year she had hoopers join her retreat from 12 different countries, and this year she has quadrupled her sales for the retreat!
“You should never ever work for free. Never. Your time, expertise, and passion need to be compensated for. I don’t care if you are new or junior. You are valuable.”
4) Mistake #4: Free Work For “Exposure”
Let’s talk about free work and exposure. You should never ever work for free. Never. Your time, expertise, and passion need to be compensated for. I don’t care if you are new or junior. You are valuable.
Now the key here is that when I say “You should never ever work for “free”. What I mean is that there should always always be an exchange of value and it does not have to be money.
Here is a classic example: Now let’s take a junior yoga teacher. There is a massive music festival and they have invited you to teach at their event in exchange for “exposure” and to build your portfolio. Here’s what happens, a few emails go back and forth and the conversation is very one sided….the music festival sets all the terms and requirements for your classes. The teacher agrees and works their butt off at the event ….sits back and waits for the “exposure” to get them clients. #Fail.
What’s the problem? There is NO exchange of value! There was no contract. No clearly outlining exactly what the teacher would receive in lieu of what would be a $1000.00+ plus contract. Now let’s look at this another way. Now the teacher puts together a simple offer where they outline what they are willing to do for the event and what EXACTLY they will receive in equal exchange. An example exchange offer could be:
- 2 social media posts during the event featuring the “rockstar” yoga teacher of the event with contact details of the studio
- A discount code for attendees of the event that if they book a yoga class they receive 10% off
- An interview on their YouTube channel or podcast on “what it was like to teach at the event”
- 3 VIP tickets for any friends
- Half a page of an ad in the event paper program showcasing the yoga studio
- Lunch and canteen drink tickets
- A free table space to sell mats and yoga clothing
- An onstage thank you at the closing speeches
So what’s the takeaway?
- Never work for free. You are valuable at any point in your journey or career.
- Exchanges of value are great if they are put together properly. You should be thinking if I normally would charge $1000.00 for this contract, how can I receive $1000.00 in benefits from this job in marketing and advertising (exposure)
5) Mistake #5: Not Treating Your Brand Like A Business
For both personal brands and performance artists sometimes the lines can get blurry between business, networking, events, shows, being social, and performances. However, you will be blown away how people and companies start treating you when you treat your venture as a business.
- Yucky paperwork is important: Contracts, invoices, and receipts, sometimes feel like a cold formality however, they set the tone of the relationship you have with the people you work with. Here is an insider secret, most companies that I have worked with much prefer to work with artists/performers who are professional. The last thing companies what to worry about during their big event or show is the talent being a flake. Once again you will be amazed how people start treating you when you are professional and treat your talent like an actual business.
- Not taking a deposit: I can’t count the amount of people I have met that do not take a deposit and get burned. You should be taking at least a 50% deposit for any contract, performance, or event which you participate in. What if the person is a friend or close personal contact? TAKE A DEPOSIT! If they truly value you and your work they will 100% understand the need and request of a deposit. Most artists I have seen getting screwed is when a close friend or contact ends up saying something along the lines of “sorry buddy, it’s just not in the budget anymore” or “we didn’t sell enough tickets”. Brutal.
- The little things: Sometimes it’s the little things that make a huge difference. When I get handed a business card with a Gmail address, I automatically think amateur.
- When I ask what someones hourly or daily rate and they stumble and mumble about “it depends” I automatically think I have huge room to negotiate. You should know your rates and say it with pride and confidence! Of course it is OK to state your rate and then speak about how that rate may change or be negotiated, however that initial statement sends off tons of messages about you and your brand. Focus on people and clients that can afford you.
There you have it. These five common mistakes that really hurt personal brands and performance artists in starting and growing their creative businesses.
What mistakes have you seen? Let us know in the comments below!