Organising your arse and getting serious about your business!

Being a creative nerd I’ve never had a head for business or even considered anything I do as being a business and I know I’m not alone in that thinking.

Last year I took a deep breath and followed Lady Gaga and “jumped in at the deep end” by opening my first Etsy ShopSophie’s Artisan Arts. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and while I haven’t exactly set the world alight, I have had a solid first year, helped no end by my incredibly awesome and supportive friends – THANK YOU!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤

I admit I always thought that creativity and business weren’t harmonious bedfellows. But anyone creative who needs or wants to make a viable career from doing what they love (whether it’s writing, art, design, making crafts, photography etc etc), needs to develop a head for business.

Trust me, nothing makes me squirm more than the thought of dull accountants, business records, paperwork, profit margins, checklists etc etc., to me those are the antithesis of living a spontaneous and creatively fulfilled life. It’s just not how my brain works! 😀

 

But in simple terms, if you love what you do and you want to make a sustainable and consistently reliable living from what you do, then you need to sell what you create/make and that means developing a business brain and a strategy to help you achieve your goals.

Once you’ve realised this, then the next step is working out how the hell you go about doing that, especially when your chosen field is absolutely swamped by thousands of others doing what you do or something very similar (though no doubt to a poorer standard). 😉

Standing out from the crowd is the obvious first step, but to do that not only must the product you create be original and brilliantly created (quality NOT quantity – sadly so often talent only gets you so far and not to the winning post), but you need to market it expertly, get people to take notice of it and you. You need to approach what you do as a business not a hobby.

If people don’t know about the amazing things you create how can you sell any of them and make a successful business?

It’s the difference between being an amateur hobbyist and someone who is a professional in their field and is serious about pursuing their dream of making a career and a whole life based around what they love to do.

Not approaching your creative life seriously is a massive obstacle to your success, so snap out of it!

After a long chat with my fellow arty mate, Linda (and fellow giggly work colleague), where we discussed business plans and what we hoped to achieve this year and in the future, I followed Linda’s advice by getting the Maker’s Yearbook 2019, by Nicola Taylor, a goal setting workbook and planner specifically for artists, makers and handmade business owners.

WOW!!!! MIND BLOWN! 😀

Unfortunately I was too late to get the book which sold out, so I bought the PDF version and printed it off at home on 120gsm quality paper and popped it in a folder. I’d never heard of this Maker’s Yearbook before and even though I didn’t purchase it until halfway through January, I’ve been addicted to it ever since!

For a scatterbrain like me, who has all the business acumen and ICT proficiency of a fish on a bicycle, this has helped me no end!

I cannot recommend this enough. It breaks everything down into small achievable goals, so straight from the beginning you’re achieving something positive and succeeding rather than failing. It helps you to structure your business, your thinking, to get you to work more effectively and efficiently rather than just working harder and chasing your own tail while making no actual forward progress and burning yourself out. It makes you review the previous year (2018) and really identify what worked, what didn’t, what mistakes you made, what expenses and costs you had, what money and actual profits you made and how you divided your time between actually doing the creative thing you love and just flitting around like a headless chicken trying to gain attention in the hope of some sales.

It was a very interesting and reflective exercise. It made me realise how terrible my time keeping is, how unbalanced my life is, how disorganised and chaotic I am, how exhausted I’ve been and ground down, and how little progress I made, despite all my efforts, compared to the previous year (2017).

What a jolt to the senses!

Already, at the end of this first month (after only 2 weeks of having this Maker’s Yearbook), I have already booked an Art/Craft fair for March, have contacted numerous art centres, shops, exhibitions etc,. will be meeting the head of an art centre next week and have a clear plan and strategy about the year ahead – something I’ve NEVER had!

The moment I finish the long term map commission I’ve been working on for far too long, then the rest of my plans will start to kick in. For possibly the first time in my life, I actually feel that my creative life can actually have a viable commercial/business future and I actually will be able to make a career from doing what I love. It’s very early days, but finally… I HAVE A PLAN!!!! 😀

So to all my creative buddies out there trying to live off the thing you create, many of you struggling as I have, some of you on the brink of giving up while others are enjoying successes, DON’T GIVE UP or GIVE IN.

KEEP GOING, get yourself organised, set yourself real weekly and daily goals which all take you one step further to achieving your overall aim and GO FOR IT!

No-one can climb a mountain in one go, you start by climbing a low foothill first. Get that first achievement under your belt then move on and the same applies here.

Is it easy? Of course not, nothing important ever is. For me personally, one of my biggest challenges is overcoming my social anxieties and crippling self-doubts. This goes WAY beyond ‘imposter syndrome’ for me, this is more like paralysing fears, actually having to winkle myself out of my hermit hole and converse with actual real human beings, having to cold call places, put myself forward, try to exude confidence while my nervous sweats start in.

People that don’t know me well imagine I’m the height of confidence, the big bubbly girl, but I’m collapsing inside. Yes I know I have some measure of artistic talent, I could always draw and paint better than most of my friends even from an early age, but I am NOT a professional at networking, marketing, at selling my products to the actual public. Just doing one Art Fair last year showed me just how out of my depth I was. To me it seemed that everyone knew what they were doing, these were people who had been setting up stalls and selling their goods for years and had it down to a fine art. Their tables were eye catching and professional looking, they had prints of all their work so even if a customer can’t fork out a large amount for something they’ll still buy something small for £4, ie. they still make a sale and the stall exudes success which draws more people in. It was both awe inspiring and utterly terrifying!

Any introvert will know what I’m talking about. You just want to shrink into the background or hide under your tablecloth, but you have to sell yourself and your work and do both justice – so no, it’s definitely NOT easy, but like most things, it is a skill you can learn and improve on with practice. ❤

After all, we learn from failure and success.

 

Wishing you all the very best for 2019, may it make our dreams and goals come true!

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

 

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The Art of…Art. Diversify or Die!

The creative arts, particularly writers and artists, are littered with those who have failed to reach their own expectations, potential, dreams and goals. We all want to excel in our chosen path, all want to achieve the aim of making a living from what we love to do.

The harsh truth is that the majority of us will fail. We’ll have our lofty ideas and will fall short after a few exhaustive years of trying everything we can think of to reach that breakthrough point. We’ll cheer at the successes of others and wish with all our hearts that we could emulate just a fraction of it for ourselves.

So, for the majority of us creative types not quite finding the success we dreamt of, what are our options?

  1. Give up chasing dreams that never come true.
  2. Continue pursuing our goals in the hope that elusive breakthrough will happen.
  3. Diversify.

Take a leaf out of current business practice. The businesses that do the best do so because they have learnt to be flexible to changing demands and needs and because they DIVERSIFY!

Businesses that cannot change with the times and cannot diversify are left behind and simply die. There are enough high street shops biting the dust at the moment for precisely this reason. Look at farmers for instance, the most successful are those who also diversify into other avenues, be it artisan cheeses, deluxe ice creams or holiday lets etc.

So…if you’re running out of ideas, head butting into brick walls or are just exhausted by the endless hamster wheel that ends nowhere despite your best efforts and talents with your aims, goals and dreams still unfulfilled…how can you break the pattern and achieve some measure of success?

DIVERSIFY!!!!!

With that in mind, today I used my skillset to run my second silk painting workshop. Although I’ve only been silk painting for the last ten to fifteen years and would not consider myself an expert in the field, I have gained enough skills to share my knowledge with others and get them creating their own original silk painting artwork.

Thankfully the workshop went very well, despite my sweating bullets on a boiling hot day with a large window magnifying the heat and my nerves. 🙂 I really was not a pretty sight! But, regardless of my melting, the event was very successful with many people asking if I did workshops nearer to them (several people had travelled nearly an hour to get there!).

Now although I choose to offer these first workshops as free workshops rather than charging, they have been invaluable in paving the way for me to do paid events like this in the future and in building my reputation as not only a skilled artworker but also as a workshop artist.

Again…diversify or die – I am looking to the future to use my skills to enable me to continue making a living from my art and not be dependent solely on commission work. You gotta think ahead people!

So how do you start to diversify?

As a creative writer you might well start by delving into non-fiction for a while, trying your hand at bid writing, academic writing, writing reviews even if it’s about a brand of supermarket cheese, hell even writing manuals, obituaries, websites, educational aids, essays etc. See what is out there. There are ads for writing in every magazine and newspaper and vast amounts online. Think, how else can you use the talents you have? If your novels/stories/poetry are failing to garner any success or even attention, how else can you diversify and use those skills?

For artists/illustrators the same applies. Even if you are currently inundated with commissions, that may not always be the case and usually it isn’t reliable in the same way that those monthly bills are. So unless you want to live your life either spending lots of money on advertising which may or may not work or waiting for the phone to ring/website email to ping for your next client commission, you need to start thinking about how to diversify and use the talents you have.

 

This is particularly important if you are specialising in a niche art field. For me, I’m best known in art terms for my fantasy maps. But out of all the fiction titles, all the fantasy and epic fantasy novels published every year, how many will actually need a fantasy map? The number is surprisingly low and as there are other artists out there who also specialise in the same field, vying for the same commission, how can you carve out a slice of that action/success for yourself and ensure it’s enough to live off?

Last year was undoubtedly my best in terms of commissions, exposure, and yes, money. I took on two large commissions for HarperCollins for ‘The Court of Broken Knives’ by Anna Smith-Spark and ‘Godblind’ by Anna Stephens*. That was swiftly followed by other commissions including one for Penguin Random House for ‘The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ by Diane Magras and a massive Artist-In-Residence commission for Oxford University for a brilliant new game ‘Mycelium’ created by writer genius Dan Holloway, producing all the artwork for it (50 hand painted images) etc.

*I’ve been sitting on some VERY exciting news on that front, but cannot share it until official announcements are made. 🙂 *

So how exactly do you pay the bills when you’re between commissions?

Use your skillset to create other artworks, think about exhibiting your work in nearby galleries even restaurants – ever been to a pub or café and seen artwork on the walls with prices on? That could be you! Contact local art centres who sell work from local artists. Of course there are ways to showcase your work online, on your website and in places like Etsy where you can sell it direct. I admit I’ve only very recently joined Etsy and am yet to set it up fully and sell any of my artwork on there…but I definitely intend to use this route to supplement my commission work.

Perhaps you too could use your talents to run a local event or workshop like my silk painting workshop? Could you charge customers a one off fee for attending such a workshop?

Diversification is the key not only to success but also to LONGEVITY! You want to be doing what you love and making a living from it for as long as you can.

Good luck everyone and embrace the change! Diversify or die!

❤ xxxx

 

 

The Realities of Writing…

soa_member_rgb1As a member of The Society of Authors (SoA), the longest running society helping authors (actually celebrating its centenary this year) and certainly the nearest we have to an ‘Author Union’, I received my quarterly SoA magazine ‘The Author’ a few weeks ago.

‘The Author’ is always a fascinating read, a thermometer of what’s going on in the literary world, in publishing, what’s trending and in writer’s lives themselves. It’s full of really interesting articles, all written by writers for writers on issues as diverse as copyright, publishing & publishers, literary festivals, contracts, public lending rights (PLR), author events, public liability insurance, awards and grants, writing tips, sales, bookshops, Amazon, research, booktrade news in addition to its own ‘Quarterly News’. Lol, to be honest, the first thing I always do is look to see the names of new members and if I recognise anyone. 😀

Anyway, in amongst the magazine was a ballot paper for this year’s Election to the Management Committee. Now I won’t say who I voted for, I don’t want to invalidate my ballot, but reading their candidate statements was really interesting and, considering most of these people are big names, quite surprising. I don’t know why, but I suppose we all have stereotypes that we fall into from time to time and certainly I imagine that these writers, the ‘big names’, all live a dream life of never having to worry about money or bills or mundane things again, that their writing has brought riches and fame and therefore they are a world away from the harsh realities that myself and my fellow writers live in day in day out. But, to my surprise, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is precisely because these writers have made it big, that makes them so sympathetic and empathetic to the struggles and plights of others because they remember what life was life before that bestseller.

One writer in particular who grabbed my attention was Alice Jolly, talking about writing as a career and how hard it is for most writers just to keep their head above the rising tides.

In her own words:

“The position of the writer is a paradox. On the one hand, authors appear to be powerful. The UK general public love authors. They spend approximately £2.2 billion on books a year and 60% cite ‘author’ as their dream job. The UK has approximately 250 literary festivals some of which attract audiences of 200,000.

But despite all that, the reality of an average author’s life is grim. The median annual income of authors is £11,000 (substantially below the minimum wage based on a forty hour week). The hours are unsocial and authors are continually asked to run workshops or make visits to schools for free.

So how can we writers capitalise on the power we have in order to ensure that writing is a career, not a hobby? How do we make sure that the current seismic changes in the publishing industry take us into a world where writers have more control over their careers?

There is no simple answer but that change certainly will not happen unless we all work together.”

What makes Alice Jolly’s words particularly pertinent is that she has experience in a range of fields, from teaching creative writing at Oxford University, having two novels published through Simon & Schuster, to four plays produced in the theatre to crowdfunding her latest work. It’s somehow reassuring to know that people like Alice, or Joanne Harris who are widely known and respected, are able to relate to the problems and struggles that we small press and indie authors face every day – that struggle not only to write in itself, to get published (in whatever way that means to you), but also to make ends meet, pay the bills, survive.

The romantic notion of the starving artist in their garret or isolated writer in their shed, is all well and good, but starving in reality does not help creativity – it stifles it. If your mind is continually pre-occupied by how you are going to keep the roof over your head and food on your plate, if you are literally starving, you are not going to be concerned by writing the next great tome. Your energies and efforts will be spent on trying to survive so you have a future where you can write.

I find these issues particularly relevant to me and my own situation. Not only have I found writing my second novel particularly hard (due to major writer’s block caused by health issues), though I have been able to write several short stories/novellas, my own personal circumstances are more than a little precarious in both financial and personal terms. All of which, the stress, the worry, health issues and the counting of pennies, really does not help the creative process.

So, what is the answer?

Alice Jolly is right, there are no simple solutions. As with everything in life, the randomness of luck always plays a part, simply being in the right place at the right time, and yes, sadly, the old adage of ‘who you know’ plays a major part. Would Christopher Paolini really have been published and pushed into the limelight if his mother hadn’t been in the industry and placed his novel in front of an agent rather than it doing the rounds of the slushpile? I think not. But we are also masters of our own destinies. I see the flamboyant and endless energy of self-published authors Ben Galley and Debbie Young who both simply do not settle for resting on their laurels. They are so determined, so inventive and so driven they have made it happen for them. Ben Galley recently revealed that he’s selling 400 books a month in the US and tours around the country and can be seen at most conventions, Debbie Young set up her own Literary Festival from scratch (the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival) with Katie FForde herself opening the inaugural event. She’s now planning the 3rd year of the festival next year and is also the main collaborator for ALLi – The Alliance of Independent Authors and tours the country doing talks and events.

So, is this the future and answer to making writing a career that can actually pay the bills? The honest answer is…I don’t know. I’m thrilled for both Ben Galley and Debbie Young, both of whom are not only thoroughly lovely people but also terrific writers. My problem is this, as much as I would dearly love to be a full-time writer (it’s been my dream since I was a kid) and be able to make an actual living from it as with any other career (yes, writing paying bills), I simply do not have the stamina or funds to do half the things that they do, I dearly wish I could. This year for instance, as I’ve been concentrating on writing so much, my marketing and publicity has, in all fairness, been crap. I’ve just found it far too hard to be able to do both things effectively.

So, the question remains, what is the answer? If you’re unable to travel much, are not techy at all (I’m an IT idiot tbh and still don’t understand what the hell, Thunderclap is!), and health and circumstances curtail what you can do, then how do you turn your imagination into something that can actually pay those bills?

Well, in truth I’m still working on that one. What I will say is in a strange parallel to other industries such as farming for instance, I think a big part of success or at least survival and self-sufficiency, is by diversifying. Look at what you can do, what you’re good at (apart from writing) and try using those skills to aid not only your writing but to also pay the bills.

For me, that has meant illustration work: –  Sophie E Tallis Illustrations. Being a trained traditional artist, with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and an MA place, I illustrate books and do fantasy maps (having just completed a commission for the wonderful Juliet McKenna and her fantastic ‘Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom’ and am currently working on a map commission for grimdark author, Anna Smith-Spark and her upcoming Harper Voyager book, ‘The Court of Broken Knives’). In fact as I can adapt to any illustration style wanted, I can pretty much do whatever the client wants (lol, though not digital art, my computer skills are crap!). Now, although I’m not raking in huge amounts, as far as paying for those damn bills, it is definitely helping!

watermarked-300dpi-finished-map-amended-bw-version

So, for we small authors to continue writing as a career not a hobby, we have to use every trick in our arsenal, diversify, think outside of the box, focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

Good luck guys, may we all succeed at that elusive goal – full-time writing AND survival! 😀 ❤ xxx

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