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Creative Unicorns Strategy Workshop Facilitated By Salomeh Ahmadi

The Unicorn Strategy Workshop May 2020

Course Description

Develop your ability to innovate, think strategically, and gain a competitive advantage for your organization through strategy – placing the right resources in the right direction at the right time.

This course is designed to provide learners how to incorporate better business strategy and strategic thinking and apply essential business management principles to your idea or company. You'll see how planning and taking action over the long term can help realize business goals and objectives given the complex and dynamic context that might be unique to you. You'll examine case studies that cover a wide range of business situations and issues. You'll gain practical and focused strategic-planning thinking, and then explore and integrate functional business activities into the business plan.

You will develop your ability to think strategically, analyze the competitive environment, and recommend positioning and value creation. We will look at the fundamental tools you need to understand strategy: effective internal and stakeholder analysis; environmental analysis, value chain, core competencies, McKinsey's 7S Framework, SWOT-analysis, Porter’s 5 Forces, visioning, to name a few

Assess: where are you today?

Alternatives: what might you do / provide?

Choice: what should you do?

Objectives

  • Design the foundations of a strategic roadmap
  • Identify opportunities to improve your top and bottom line
  • Evaluate how internal and external forces might affect your strategic moves
  • Learn how to better thinking strategically
  • Touch on business growth strategy

About Salomeh Ahmadi

  • With an MBA and a background in the social sector, Salomeh focuses on connecting the parts to the whole in new and empowering ways. She brings experiences working in small and fast-paced organizations, with SMEs, and social entrepreneurs, providing research, strategic and critical thinking to resolve complex issues. A strong facilitator and creative problem solver - she hones in on the gaps while connecting it to the bigger picture.

Visit her website

https://www.navastrategy.com/

 

Registration

  • 1st Class July 2nd 2020
  • Register first so we can get on the same page
  • Pay and setup your account on CreativeUTO.ca when you're ready 
  • Your CreativeUTO account gives you access to the backend
  • CreativeUTO account accumulates Volume for activity (community currency)
  • Early bird Pay $45 for the 1st 2-months
  • The incubator is $75 per month for 6 months
  • You get continued support after through our Slack community
  • Our classes will be through Zoom (where we will setup multiple rooms)
  • Once Social Distancing restrictions change they will eventually be in person

For more info about our whole program click here

Click the link below to register

Support & Resources for Artists During COVID-19

As we move into the middle of May, Toronto looks at implementing phase one of lifting some of the lockdown restrictions. This can be as soon as May 19th CBC reports. Thanks to our collective due diligence, persistence to social distancing and lockdown measures - let's continue to avoid a second wave.

Below is a list of resources to support artists while we are planning around COVID in the coming months. While protecting the health of our communities, it’s inevitable that without income our collective health will be impacted by stress while managing the necessities to get by. There are supports out there beyond the emergency relief fund. Governments, organizations and grassroots have diligently and compassionately compiled resources and support for everyone who needs, to seek them.

Recently, Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) conducted a survey in early April 2020 to better understand the needs of the professional arts sector to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. The report can be found here. Of their membership, 8,842 replied. Where 42% of individual respondents said they had or would be applying to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit; and 61% expressed confidence that the emergency aid measures announced by the federal government would be helpful to them – that leaves 39% who believe it will not. 

Despite the uncertain future, the city, communities, organizations and government have come together support as best as they can. Below is a partial list of resources available for artists, individuals and even organizations.

Supports For Artists

CBC Compiled a list of where Canadian artists and freelancers can find help during COVID-19 shutdowns https://www.cbc.ca/arts/here-s-where-canadian-artists-and-freelancers-can-find-help-during-covid-19-shutdowns-1.5503360

Freelance Artist Resource: This is a list of free resources and financial relief for those artists of all disciplines. This list is specifically designed to serve freelance artists and those interested in supporting the independent artist community. www.freelanceartistresource.com/

Artwork Archive: Financial Relief, www.artworkarchive.com/blog/financial-relief-resources-for-artists-during-covid-19

Edu Arts: This includes a list of specific resources by category, www.eduarts.ca/resources-for-the-arts-and-learning-sector-during-the-covid-19-pandemic

Toronto Arts Council: Federal and local supports, https://torontoartscouncil.org/covid-19/emergency-funding-support

 

General Resources

  • 519: A more holistic list of resources and information about services, supports, and care during COVID-19. Including essential services, care, emotional supports and supports for newcomers and refugees. www.the519.org/covid19resources
  • 211: A List of Food Banks in Ontario
  • Tapa Micro-Grant: A one-time micro-grant of $75 for artists for groceries (you can also donate) https://tapa.ca/submission-micro-artist-grants-for-groceries-bad-news-days/
  • Grassroots Resource: A Toronto-based, community grassroots effort, organized by initiative and type of support. You can either look for support or provide it. This excel includes, volunteering and financial, with tabs at the bottom that include: how to help; health/mental health; support services; free activities; and more – updated regularly in this excel.

Be well,

To stay up to date on the Canadian response and supports available during COVID, see updates on the federal website for individuals, businesses and sectors. And if you plan on applying for the Emergency benefits, which have now been extended to August 2020, you can read about How to apply for EI and COVID-19 emergency benefits, on CBC here.

Reduce Bounce Rate Increase Online Sales

Are you a Website Browser?

Most of us browse websites, probably more than we are willing to admit. But what makes us stay there?

If someone clicked on your website will it stick? Will they stay to browse? And will that ultimately lead to a sale? Knowing the answers to these questions requires you to look over some of the (easier) analytics behind your website in order to work on optimizing your digital assets.

The bounce rate is the percentage of users who land on your website and decide to leave after visiting only one page. Ultimately, a higher bounce rate, as a percentage, indicates you neither converted nor convinced the user to stay. The purpose of selling your work online is to ensure a seamless customer journey from start to finish, here’s how.

  1. Quality – this can mean different things to different prospects. What does your ideal client need in terms of quality? High-resolution images? A quick purchase in two clicks? The right words, or easy user experience? Clutter-free navigation and usability? As well as, the right content. Ensure all or some of these as you roll out your business.
  2. Optimize page load time – if your page takes too long to load, or looks unusable in mobile, this increases frustration and decreases engagement. More importantly, load rates affect shopping cart abandonment.
  3. Call to action – what single and specific action do you want users to take when they’ve consumed whatever content you’re offering? One suggestion: subscribe to an email list, or get access to a freebie that requires their email. After this, you can send them great content to build a relationship.
  4. Smart Formatting – don’t include so much text that leaves readers lost and uninterested. Use headings, subheadings and of course the right colour contrast and size for visibility. Hire a copy editor for readability, if you’re unsure of how to convey a strong and simple sales message (or read over the successful websites that do it right for an idea).
  5. Attract the right visitors – this could be the meta descriptions for users’ searches. Achieve this through blogging, content marketing. Create great content and improve engagement; social media and video marketing, and here are 42 more ways to do this.

Bounce Rate

Many sites have a high bounce rate. As a result, this can mean people are just visiting, but it also means the remaining users are serious buyers and remain longer - but you must ensure they lean towards yes and not the middle. The bounce rate numbers range from 31%-50% (an excellent rate) for some art marketplaces like Etsy and Artnet. You can find out your website's analytics from tools such as Google Analytics, which has to be connected to your website.

Similarly, ‘Time on Page’ is another approximate metric. That and bounce rates are based on whether or not two clicks are made in order to accurately calculate, otherwise, it’s just an average. Ultimately, consider these metrics holistically and not in isolation.

Likewise, there's data for industry-specific conversion rates. Conversion rates are the percentage of website visitors who convert - either buy or convert into action. According to WordStream, across industries, the average landing page conversion rate was 2.35-2.8%, (arts and crafts are at 3.84-4%) yet the top 25% are converting at 5.31% or higher. Ideally, you want to break into the top 10%. As well, these numbers change according to the device (remember to optimize your web content for mobile!). In the end, focus on your art, the content and tackle each of these areas one-by-one so people remain, and not bounce.

5 Websites to Sell Art Online in 2020

Websites to Sell Art Online

Online art sellers have a goal in common with you, which is to find qualified buyers to view and purchase your art. They're your business partners. Here are a few sites to start and what they have to offer.

Saatchiart –  boasts over 12 million monthly page views and an extensive marketing plan that includes mailing printed catalogues. Additionally, they have editorial features and art advisory services. Their commission is 35% on every artwork sold. If you price your pieces slightly over your general asking price to offset this, you might get great exposure. Otherwise, you can create your own website and for the cost of the domain, host and marketing budget you might lean on your networks and marketing. You can sell anything from paintings, installations, sculptures to prints. Founded in 2010.

Your cut: 65%

Etsysupport independent creators’ is the go-to marketplace for vintage, art, and handcrafted items. While it has gone through a lot of changes, including the questionable nature of 'hand-made,' Etsy still boasts total visits of 208 million in September (similarweb.com). The majority are from the US at 60%, and 10% of their traffic is from social with Pinterest at number one. Founded in 2006.

Your cut: all of it, except the 0.26 CAD cents fee per items posted, and a 5% commission.

Society6selling your art reproductions on a variety of products such as prints, mugs and shower curtains – this is the site. You retain the rights to your work, and they manage order fulfillment including packaging and shipping. Just upload, select products and dimensions. They had 3.97 million visitors in September. Founded in 2009.

Your cut: you set up a markup price only for three products in their catalogue: art prints, framed prints, and canvas. And each other item has a flat rate, and then you decide what your profit is on top of that.

Artfinder - with over 10,000 artists from all mediums (digital and sculpture), this site has work ranging from $26 to $65,000. The website is simple and easy to navigate. As well, they had 348 million visitors in September, with high traffic in the UK recently (similarweb.com). Founded in 2011 and based in London and Miami. 

Your cut: 67%

 

Art and Prints

Some POD sites (print on demand) might be free (ArtPal has no commission, some are curated such as French-based Singulart that has a global list of artists; and there’s even a space for digital art to buy, Daata Editions that posts original, digital artworks by established and emerging artists, allowing you to stream or download high-quality digital artworks on any device” among many others, Tappan Collective, Artfinder, Zatista, or Azucar), but don’t expect to sell out of your work. There isn’t a lot of data that guarantees success. Use these tools as a platform and aim to bring visitors to your website or mailing list. Review the social media accounts, reviews, and if the site is marketing through ads and other means to keep their website traffic going. Check to see if your aesthetic or medium fits, review the costs, and other perks offered by each.

Ultimately, if you place yourself on an existing platform that has an audience in the millions – you might get the exposure you will not through your website traffic alone. As a result, you might benefit from having both a personal website and another account, as well as social media, where buyers might find you. Be strategic with your time. As well, you can always add more accounts later. 

Bounce Rate

Know your bounce rate - the percentage of visitors who enter a site and then leave after visiting one page is the bounce rate. This could mean people are just visiting, but it also means the remaining users are serious buyers and remain longer. The numbers range from a 31%-50% bounce rate for Etsy and other similar arts markets, which is an excellent rating. I previously discussed how to improve your bounce rate here

Selling your art online today is a bit of trial and error. There aren’t enough reliable reviews to know which site will work best for you. Often, they’re user-generated and buyers searched (be sure to use your tags and key search terms). Browse the website, and review the quality and shopping experience.

Firstly, ensure you have one popular social media account such as Instagram or a Facebook group, for instance. Secondly, join other sites that work best for you. Ultimately, if most of these sites can charge the customer for the shipping fees, I think it pays to remove the guesswork out of marketing to a wider and more global audience.

5 Marketing Myths For Creative Entrepreneurs

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Creating art and running a business can feel like two full-time jobs, but it doesn’t have to be if you work smarter and not harder. Sometimes I see creatives put energy into non-urgent tasks, such as, why won't people follow me on Instagram?

Pivot!

Our good pal Ross from the show Friends once yelled, 'Pivot!' when moving a couch up against a corner staircase. Pivoting is important. A lot of business owners refuse to pivot and thus become unsustainable. Most businesses dissolve before they hit the two-year mark. Pivoting is vital as an entrepreneur. While you might not be well-versed in all things business, you can definitely learn, try, repeat, and adjust. You must assess what you did, such as when you wrote those reflection papers in school. You need to be reviewing your actions. Think back, what did you learn?

All start-ups go through an iterative process, which essentially means you learn from your mistakes. The process by which you get closer to creating exactly what is needed in the world (a product or service) and having it stick. For example, concerts are no longer just about musicians, but also the art, outfits and light installations. An experience they can charge twice as much for.

In the art world, we also see it as the turn of the century artists who push new forms, or politics, or trendy mediums. For example, there's a trend in life-like sketching. There's also an interest in graphic design, web design, book design, and storytelling. Big brands want to collaborate with local artists because they have authentic fans that big brands could never cultivate. You should know what you do and do not want.

Knowing what to do and what not to do is key. These will change for your medium, industry and geography generally speaking. There might be more once you dig a little deeper into what you or a similar competitor is or is not doing.

5 Marketing Myths

1) Hashtags: Once a business owner asked me, how can I use hashtags to get customers? Tags don’t convert a person to purchase something or even some of the time. Hashtags are one step in attracting people to pay attention to you. Then you need a call to action – a follow, a subscribe, a message, or a newsletter sign-up. The engagement and call to action are vital steps that build up the relationship into a sales funnel. After this, you have to continue to build trust before selling. Unless you get a celebrity endorsement - people need to build trust or be referred to you.

2) New is best: vintage always makes a comeback (hello 90s hip-hop), and certain forms of art, such as macramé and life-like sketches are trending. We also see a return to analog photography. New is not always best but can be where used appropriately. If your story is aligned with vintage, old, or analog – play on that theme authentically in your marketing. Don’t try to be “new” because contemporary art says so.

3) Don’t make mistakes: failure is just another learning opportunity. You might shy away because of fear and doubt, but historically art and inventions were born out of repeated attempts at simply trying. You learn from who you are and what you know in order to evolve. Some of those learnings might be from doing it wrong, so you get closer to how to do it right. If it's worth your goals, you won't give up.

4) Marketing = sales: sometimes, but not all the time. If you’re a visual artist who’s only posting on Instagram, you might find out gallery representation is better. If you’re a graphic designer, you might find out cold-calling agencies to provide contract work or collaborations with brands might be your bread and butter. Just passively posting on social media or buying ads does not translate into direct sales, unless your marketing budget is in the five-figures. Above all, your story has to land. Your artistic medium might be saturated with competition - do you stand out and in what ways?

5) A portfolio is enough: if someone asks to see your portfolio, and you have one, but never returns, what do you do? If you do nothing, you’re not doing enough. Engagement is key in nurturing relationships over time. Remember the sales funnel is a process where someone is attracted, interested and engaged, which might translate into a sale over time. Typically, a sale is not the first step. An interested buyer might come back 6 months from now to have you interior design their whole house if you left a strong impression on them. If you don’t maintain relationships with interested parties, through professional and timely follow-ups, you might be losing a sale or referral. Just parking your work on the world wide web does not translate into sold-out tickets to your concert.

The Right Way

Social media, SEO, or word-of-mouth are each individual means of marketing, not a single one is the answer to a lucrative career. You need to find out which tactics will work best for you and your target market. If you might do best through gallery representation, and if your target market is retired women 55+ with a master’s degree, who enjoy travelling and documentaries, they might not be on social media let alone using hashtags. Are you spending too much time on Instagram?

Put aside time to research and learn about marketing, test, and gauge the impacts and results. What did you do, what didn’t you do, what worked and what didn’t. Always get feedback. Don't be shy, ask others, specifically your ideal clients, what do they like or dislike about how they can find out about your art and purchase it. Do they prefer an email, shopping in-person, or shopping online through a secure e-commerce site? Where will they hear about you or where do they frequent?

Marketing is a spectrum of approaches and tactics, from competitive analysis to pricing, to your promotions. The answers won’t come through a magic ball, but understanding the myths can help you pivot.

Branding versus Marketing

Branding, Marketing, Logo – What’s The Difference?

Branding versus Marketing

What does the public say about your artwork? Ok, what does your friend or parents say about it?

You need to know what the public’s perception is of you in business because feedback is gold. This type of analysis is what corporations pay money to research through surveys and focus groups. Knowing where your business stands in branding, marketing and strategy are important concepts to know when developing a marketing strategy. What’s the difference and why should you care? If you’re trying to monetize your passion, it pays to know how to run a business.

Branding is what the public thinks and says about you. Alternatively, marketing is what you say you want your company to be. Your marketing strategy is based on what you want to sell or pitch. For e.g. back your ads by market research, or which ads should you run where. That requires a marketing budget. If you're a big company you’re focusing on awareness, clicks and traction. As a small business, you should also consider these to a certain extent.

Branding runs a bit deeper than marketing and can even encourage someone to buy a product. Based on the last product you bought, whether athletic wear or technology, why did you choose that brand and not another one, when the price wasn’t a variable?

Three concepts you need to know to decipher in the world of business:

Branding versus marketing:

Branding is who you are, and marketing is how you will build and showcase brand awareness so you get in front of your ideal customer. Branding is vital in huge and saturated markets. In art or music, how will your brand or story stand out? Visually speaking we see the brand first and remember it, or not. How the customer's eye perceives or remembers you is branding. What can they expect of you? Marketing is a plan or set of tools you will implement to deliver your brand message. Marketing supports your brand message and can be a mix of visuals, texts, keywords, videos and so on, both online and offline.

Brand versus a Logo:

If a brand is how a customer experiences your product or service, a brand is a single visual that represents your company. Brands are ultimately built through customer interpretation and perception. That might not be what you expect and so encourage feedback and research. Let’s take the famous Nike logo. It’s unmistakable, but what Nike has mastered is the logo instils the brand into your brain because through marketing you have seen a lot of things represent ‘Nike’ through ads, videos, and sponsorships. They have done this seamlessly. If you think Nike, you can probably come up with a few words to describe what Nike represents as a brand. If someone is not familiar with your logo or your brand, they need constant reminders to engage before they connect with it. Ultimately, they need an emotional or memorable experience related to it to excite or interest them. This is where immersive experiences, community building and collaborations matter.

Marketing strategy versus marketing tactics:

A strategy is a plan you will put into place to achieve a specific goal or set of goals. Put another way, what resources will you put where to achieve the desired outcome, based on an analysis. On the other hand, tactics are the sets of actions you will implement to achieve those goals. So your strategy informs the tactics you choose. Choosing the right tactics is important to achieving the right outcomes. In a saturated market for e.g. marketing on every single social media platform might not be realistic. By choosing where, how and when to post you are being strategic – and the tactic is what you post, where and when. Strategy is like chess, and it helps define your competitive strategy. Tactics are the details.

Branding is often said what leads to fans, people who come back and are ride-or-die. Alternatively, marketing helps to get people to go to the brand in the first place. Both are important and one does not necessarily come before the other – it depends on a lot of variables such as industry, size and market. Remember, you need to find a balance between how you think you’re conveying your brand and how it’s actually received. Be open to feedback and evolution.

 

Value Proposition for Creative Entrepreneurs

 

Value Proposition for Creative Entrepreneurs

Creativity is a unique skill. Artists have the advantage to create and demonstrate the value they provide simply because they’re creative. This is not a skill available to everyone. Creativity is a currency. Overall, your value just needs to be rendered in the right way, to the right audience at the right time. You know that not all art sells. So what do you promise to deliver to customers should they choose to buy your product or service? That is the definition of a value proposition (VP).

Trending

Sometimes a VP sticks because it's trendy. It pops up at the right time to the right audience. Today, right now, I see popularity sits with graphics and stories about self-care, mental health, and work-life balance – all flourishing on Instagram. We see these in the form of quotes, comics, posters, and strong illustrations with a cohesive colour pallet and brand story. This lands with people because it is human nature to go through emotional peaks and valleys and to try to self-actualize and evolve. We want to relate, we don't want to feel alone, and we want to feel better.

The fact that artists and writers are tapping into a trend, or zeitgeist of the moment (however you see it), is a win-win situation. It is what the audience is craving and the story that artists share. Talking about self-care and mental health also helps to remove the stigma around mental and psychological growth. Health and wellness are universal. In many ways, we know art is also universal.

Do you need a Value Proposition (VP)?

Just because you’re an artist, and "the medium speaks for itself," it’s understandable you don’t desire or want a VP to convey to a potential buyer, manager, producer or client. However, if they don’t have access to your work, how will you hook them and get their immediate attention through a conversation? What will you place in your social media bios and artist statement? Apart from that, how can we know with certainty that your art will land, on its own, into the minds of audiences? Sometimes the art becomes even more memorable due to the story behind it. You write this as an artist statement. But the artist statement is meant for those who more often understand art, which is not always the general public or potential customers, and plus it's quite lengthy. That's where you want to introduce the VP.

Exercise

Check out three artists you admire, review their website, the about, artist statements if they have, and bios.

How would you describe them in one sentence to someone? What stands out to you? Why do you like them? What's cohesive about the value they provide? How would you describe them in three words?

Lost in Translation

Art doesn’t translate to every audience. Similarly, listen to conversations in a museum where everyday people try to interpret the art. However, that is not to say that you can’t get people’s attention. If you’re clear on what you want to convey, chances are it sticks and is something they want to return to (and maybe even purchase).

While the artist statement depicts the deeper purpose and ethos of your work, you need a much shorter 1-2 sentence statement about your work that sounds good when you speak it. For example, Beyoncé’s VP is tapping into the ethos of the feminist women's empowerment movement. Thinking of Beyoncé, you might consider the words strong, beautiful, independent, to ‘run the world’ and ‘get in formation.’ We won’t argue the merits of ‘feminism’ through Beyoncé here, but the point is to the suggestion that her ethos and unique value and message is clear – for independent women to be themselves, and to remember how strong they are. Arguably this is an underlying theme throughout her career, but now more explicitly so.

Banksy, as we all know, is the anti-art graffiti artist whose message can be summed up as social justice and politically driven, with a lot of nuance to each piece. The point is you want to be recognizable without feeling compartmentalized – you are not your VP. It is just part of the story you share today. That VP will change with the seasons if you want it to.

Top Tips for your VP

  1. Don’t bury your VP in meaningless slogans, buzzwords or a story that doesn’t move cohesively throughout your brand and products.
  2. Make it strong because people generally have about 7-11 seconds to latch onto your message and get it. From your website to your in-person ‘elevator’ pitch.
  3. Keep it simple. Be quick and explicit about pointing out how your product or service is unique and powerful. Why do you do it – make sure your passion and truth speak.
  4. Make it even simpler. Test it out on people. Is what they interpret, what you think you are?
  5. Frame it as a relationship. You are creating a relationship with your thoughts and experiences to produce art; likewise, through art, you create a new relationship between the observer (or listener) and the art. What relationship are you creating? What are you building – trust, honesty, integrity, curiosity, inspiration, or a feeling?

So which comes first, the art or the VP? There’s no correct answer to this. With Banksy, he was driven by his artistic vision and the value he expressed to the world and people took note. With Beyonce, she evolved over time into the women’s empowerment movement more explicitly as a society did too during a pivotal time. Finally, in an economically driven society and in the attempt to destroy the ‘starving artist’ trope – your VP is the reason why people will buy from you.

MoMA writes in there about,

“We’re committed to sharing the most thought-provoking modern and contemporary art”

This is simple and different. Ultimately, not all spaces focus on ‘thought-provoking’ art, and this VP will be reflected in the decisions MoMA makes in curation. Likewise, you as an artist are curating not just your work for the sake of creation, but for an audience. Your work deserves to move and stir in people whatever it is that you want to propose to them, just make it clear.

 

3 Ways to Communicate Effectively with a Client

Communicating with a Potential Client

The other day, a new client wanted to have our first phone conversation, which I incorrectly assumed would include a bit of discovery (a process where you define, map and analyze an organization's existing processes or current state). Rather, it was just a formality to chat for about 10 minutes as an introduction to a future discovery meeting in the subsequent week. I assumed a few things when we booked the phone chat in under three days, which were they were in a rush and either the situation was urgent or they wanted to get this prospective consultant off their to-do list. I did my best to listen, ask good questions, focus on their interests and their needs and not mine.

Communication is the foundation of every relationship. It begins before you even realize it. We don't just have in-person conversations, but text, email or phone. Our assumptions can also cloud our perceptions (do they like me?). From what people want, what people speak, and how people earn trust. These all stem from relating to someone through verbal and non-verbal cues.

Did you know, there are four people present in a conversation between two people.

1) What I communicate;

2) How the other person perceives it;

3) What they communicate back, and

4) How I perceive that.

With four people in every conversation, there's a likely chance of misunderstanding. If the gap between perception and speech is big, then the greater the chances of miscommunication and conflict, regardless of intention. The role of consciousness is as gatekeeper and sense maker after the fact, research shares,  so this means that our unconsciousness is doing most of the driving (some research says as much as 95%, you know this when you don't have to think to eat or move your hand off something hot, or can't control your facial expression to something that was said). 

Generous listening, a term I coined as a facilitator, is a step better than traditional ‘active listening’ found in communication books. This is much harder than speaking. Generous listening requires intentional silence, or pauses, creating space for disagreement, and the fine dance in the art of conversation. You're not listening to speak; rather you are listening to understand. Generous listening includes empathy. See from their eyes and walk in their shoes. Opening the floor with strong open-ended questions and getting curious about what a person has to say and what is on their mind is at the heart of generous listening. As expected, this takes a certain level of confidence, practice and relational acumen.

You are not listening to speak; rather you are listening to understand.

If you focus on being curious, then your communication skills will be open and flexible. If you focus only on getting the last word in and getting your point across, chances are your communication style is more rigid and stubborn. In the latter, ask yourself, do you feel heard when you speak? Sometimes being assertive is necessary. If tension and stubbornness exist in the conversation - such as the client not relying on your expertise, or micro-managing, or overstepping your work schedule by demanding a quick turnaround, then first trying to understand where they're coming from so they're heard, which then flows into being listened to. Then you assert your business boundaries.

When building a clientele you have to start off on a date. You do that by showing respect, being timely and communicating accurate plans. These are essential, both to a first date and to a partnership. Here is how you listen to and communicate in a way that is trustworthy and credible.

3 Ways to Communicate Effectively

  1. Generous listening: only listen, don't speak and don't multitask. And don't think about dinner plans. Focus only on what the other person is saying, explicit words and implicit body language. In fact, empty your mind completely. This level of attention and empathy demonstrates you care, i.e. you're not a pushy salesperson.
  2. Paraphrase: repeat back exactly what you hear, this is not an easy task. Think about the last conversation you had and did you repeat back everything they said to truly understand what was said? What if the conversation was a disagreement? Chances are you didn't, and that’s because we have mental heuristics, or shortcuts that our brain takes under stress and we fall into habit. So if we are in disagreement with someone, we don't listen to understand, we listen to disagree and push our own interests. That's why this tip is very important, always repeat back what that person is saying. This works in many ways, not just with a prospect, but also in your market research, or emails. If you're not providing a service or product that clients are really voicing a need for, then you're not listening. Repeat back what you've heard to confirm and validate what they shared.
  3. Ask good questions: to understand someone's perceptions more clearly and deeply. Ask open-ended questions (and not 'yes' or 'no' ones). In the art of business, you're not debating your prospects or clients and you certainly don't want to disagree with them because that will push them away. You're trying to build trust and a mutual understanding of the benefits each party will receive. You're trying to better understand what their needs are, what the parameters or scope of the project is so you can have a good working relationship.

Build Trust through Practice

Similarly, apply these tips in the digital world. If a client is not listening to you – can you trust they will deliver their part? If a client takes weeks to respond, how will you ensure your payment is on time? The art of communication is like a first date. You're trying to woo and impress one another in genuine ways. Can you feel trust and respect?

In the future, practicing your communication skills and giving up some of your old habits can feel uncomfortable and risky. It might even feel like giving up some of your power at first. Every good salesperson (or negotiator) knows giving up power is the key to establishing trust and mutual respect.

Similarly, listening doesn't necessarily mean you agree with everything, or that you must take a specific set of actions. On the contrary, listening actually helps to clarify any incorrect actions or taking actions too soon. You don't want to act on little information only to find out that it is not what the client wanted to begin with. Or, if you're trying to identify what a client needs with their branding, or with their art commission. They're going to be looking for evidence that you generously listened to them and what they want before the project unfolds. Essentially, should they pay or hire you, or not? Notice your resistance to what a client or prospect is saying and how they're saying it and always put listening first.

In the end, take the time to generously listen before speaking. Always take the time to ask good questions, then follow up with your expertise. This will help build your social and emotional courage so you can build trust and in turn, secure a prospective customer or even a long-lasting relationship.

How to Use Instagram Effectively in 2020

Instagram is a Free Platform to Grow

This is not an article about how to pose in photos. This is about how to create a professional and branded Instagram (IG) profile. There are 1 billion Instagram users as of 2018 and over 700 million monthly active users. Not everyone had the chance to get famous off of Vine and translate that into an IG fanbase. However, there is plenty of room for everyone to grow.

You want to translate your IG into meaningful exposure, partnerships or customers. They say a potential customer has to see your branded content at least 7 times before they buy into it. Others say, you don’t need to attract all your potential customers, but just 1000 true die-hard fans. Either way, know that people will fall in love with your art, or they will have to warm up to it before they even decide to make a purchase. Most people will not make a purchase on the first click alone (that’s where your target market comes in, but that’s another topic entirely).

Take your profile seriously as a whole, the bio, wall, stories, highlights, posting, hashtags and interaction. Focus on a good mix of all that IG has to offer, without overspending your time – your business solution is not just Instagram.

7 Ways to Boost your IG Effectively in 2020

  1. Bio – explain what you do in a creative way. Don’t over-explain or laundry list all your traits, make it short, sweet, relevant, and memorable. I’ve noticed a lot of people have a link tree in their profiles with over 5 links to choose from. You only want to initiate one call-to-action. Options can decrease follow-through. Have all the other links on your website, until you amass a following. Make sure your thumbnail photo is memorable so it stands out. Every detail is important – look at how artists you admire do it.
  2. Stories – show what you do, why you do it and how you do it in a creative way. Visual storytelling can be images, videos and the branding or feel and look. What are you trying to evoke or capture and why? A sense of identity, nostalgia, or a look of analog, or minimalism? Make sure to use a hashtag and location, especially at events, as this will boost attention. Here are some IG story hacks.
  3. Highlights – save pertinent business info here, such as an FAQ, about, processes, inspiration, freebies, or other behind the scenes looks. Your videos and exclusives of your work process can be housed here so people get hooked right away, as these highlights sit right at the top of your profile.
  4. Posting – provide a consistent mix of content, photo and video. You don’t have to post every day, but be consistent. Don’t post once this month, then every week, then ghost. The trends on IG change with the seasons, there is no right way. Choose what feels best to you based on your industry and your goals. If you want to sell items, you must photograph your products well (look at how the big names do it). More often than not, images with human faces get more likes and interaction - use what works. Post at peak times depending on where you located geographically and your audience - you will figure this out through trial and error. Typically it's the first thing in the morning. Also, include post comments that focus on education or inspiration, more hacks here.
  5. Hashtags – always try to use a saved set of 30 hashtags (the max) on each post immediately after posting as a separate comment. This can increase engagement from people outside of your followers and attract attention. Don’t get stuck up on this, do it and move along. Change it up every now and then. Target your industry or what you think a buyer might search if they’re on IG. Hashtags do not translate into buyers. This is for impressions and brand awareness, and other growth secrets.
  6. Interaction – most artists don’t have the time to run a business let along run a social marketing platform while creating the art they’re talented at. However, the interaction does lead to engagement, trust and relationship building. Interact with immediate comments right away, and schedule time weekly to just review your account (don’t get sidetracked), to better understand who follows you, who do they follow, what are the like?
  7. Collaborate – one of the best ways to boost brand awareness is to make engaging and authentic work with others who also have a following. You can cross-pollinate and share your marketing reach this way by tagging one another. Whether with pop-up markets, such as Etsy, friends or magazines, try to tag, DM or get noticed by engaging with companies and people you like every so often. This beats paying for ads. If someone significant shares one of your posts, their followers can see it and might get curious.

Be Consistent, Build Momentum

There are many more ways to build momentum and excitement, from shout outs to launches and building anticipation, to giveaways (be sure to like, share and follow!). Ensure you mix it up and stick with what works. Set quarterly marketing reviews to see what has been successful and build on that. Always review your competition to get curious and learn - not put yourself down.

Ultimately, IG is a platform to build awareness. Be consistent with your story and aesthetic. Don’t post your everyday life adventures, your siblings and what you eat, when your aim is to sell your art. You can introduce more about yourself as you grow and develop. As long as you keep your IG focused with a clear purpose, you will gradually build a strong following and soon-to-be clients or referrals. A tree doesn’t finish growing in one season.

How to Use Your Energy Wisely Running a Business

Tick-Tock

Spending time on social media is enjoyable until you realize time doesn't stand still, and you didn’t finish what you originally set out to do. What did you achieve?

What about all the times you avoided planning and organizing your business? Instead, there’s Netflix, reading, friends, the mall, online shopping, to name a few. You don't have to spend every waking hour operating your business. Rather, you want to spend the limited day-to-day energy you have, apart from art-making, on business priorities. What is the most pressing issue in your business? Selling art is not the answer by the way, because before that you need a marketing strategy, awareness and engagement. Here we tackle the question, how can you open up space so you don't spend your energy carelessly and indiscriminately. Where are your energy leaks?

Your energy is your currency - when time passes you don't get that back. If you overexert your energy and place it anywhere and everywhere this will impact your ability to tackle what really needs to get done this week. This can then affect your confidence, your decisions, and your future goals - these are all interrelated. Where do you even start, you might be wondering.

Your energy is your currency - when time passes

you don't get that back.

 

Do you want to make sure you understand exactly what needs to get done? Or, are you asking how to do something better? We all want to work smarter, and not harder, but in a hyper-capitalistic and productivity-driven world, this hamster race can be difficult to hop off of. Before diving into the deep end of the business, the biggest issue I see owners struggle with is time management, which is also another way of saying energy management, or self-steering. If you're the captain, first mate, gunner, sailing master, and all the other roles of a ship (aka your business), then you're responsible for self-steering your energy and talent towards reaching your destination.

Where is your Energy Going Exactly?

How does your energy flow with your day-to-day life? When is it low, or high? What are you doing? Which foods are you eating? Who are you hanging out with? This isn't a question of just productivity, but it's about your lifestyle, and living in a way that nourishes who you are, and the art you want to create. In other words, you want to invest your energy in ways that bring you joy and success, however, you define them.

Intentional Energy Use

  1. Reflect - Where are you spending your energy? What are you doing that is not fulfilling your goals or your purpose? Look at your life through what you do, how you think and how you behave. Is there self-sabotage or low confidence at play? Do you feel you don’t deserve success or that you might fail? How can you lean into these emotions and non-identify with them? Have energy check-ins frequently until you establish new habits.
  2. Plan - If you want to invest your money in profitable stocks, you have to plan and research carefully. Think about what matters to your business today. What do you need to know?  This might include better time management, a business plan, a mentor or marketing help. Maybe you need a calendar, or an invoice app, or a better workspace. Research and eliminate things that are not working.
  3. What do you value? - Being able to make good decisions about where to spend your energy requires you to know what actually matters to you. What is your definition of happiness, of work, and success? It shouldn't be your parent’s or society's definition. Knowing how you want to use your energy towards what you want, depends on how that makes you feel. Focusing on other people's perceptions is misspent energy.
  4. Eliminate distractions - What are pointless ways you’re spending and draining your energy? Are you hanging out with unfulfilling friends every day? Do you rely on external validation? Are you expecting your parents to give you confidence and the go-head? Addicted to social media? Is your house a mess? Do you expend a lot of energy getting into arguments and judging people? Where are the energy drains? Write them all down, and start tackling them in the upcoming weeks realistically. Don't take part in what triggers you until you resolve the issue in a way that matters to you. The time you spend bouncing back from energy drains is also a leaky area, and we don't want this ship to sink.
  5. Good enough move forward - The perfectionist in any artist might have them convinced things to need to be 'just right' or even perfect. This can be counterproductive. You need to focus on progress over perfection and good enough, move forward. You can iterate and refine as you go, otherwise, you will stay stuck where you are, an anchor weighing you down.

If you're spending the time reflecting on a consistent basis (mark it in your calendar) and intentionally making a choice to do think, know, feel and act differently, you're holding yourself accountable to change and growth. Welcome that new energy.

Pivot and Adjust

As you pivot in each area you will get better at developing positive habits over time. Genetically you have some power to alter, i.e. turn genetic expressions off and on through concerted effort. Even though traits can be passed down from generation to generation such as stress, you can still adapt and resolve them over time - this requires focused energy and the right environment.

This does not happen in one day, nor is it the same for every person. You will still pick up that phone to play Wordscapes. Social media will distract you. You will still binge-watch entire seasons. You will have emotional peaks and valleys. But you need to be aware in order to change those behaviours over time. You must ask yourself, what will happen 5 years from now if you look back today and did nothing?

If you want to be an intelligent investor of your most valuable currency, you must understand who you are and where you're spending your energy. Don’t lose the opportunities in front of you when you’re creating your own life's purpose this doesn't always happen twice – keep your talent alive.