If you often find yourself preoccupied by how hard it can be to drum up commissions-based business, I’ve been there, more recently than I’d care to look back on. Truth be told, there are still slow periods, so I have plenty of encouragement and advice for you.
If your work is of sound enough quality for a customer to be pleased, or even enthralled by it, it should be clear to you there’s nothing wrong on that front. Perhaps it’s something else.
If someone slipped onto your radar by beginning to do what you do a couple of months ago, and is now buried under commission requests they have to paint their way out of, or is closing their books due to sheer demand after you’ve been steadily grinding away for years, just know this:
They’re in the middle of climbing their own hill, completely apart from yours.
Nothing your peers do downgrades or outshines the effort you’re willing to apply on any given day, simply because the two situations, histories, inputs, attitudes, external pressures and support networks are non-identical. This is why comparison with others is an utterly pointless activity, and one that’ll leave you ruminating about failure if you’re not careful.
I’ve been plagued by these thoughts in the past. They were actually a daily occurrence in January and February of 2019. My external influences led me to pursue an artistic career full time in November 2018, with some savings to rely upon and plenty experience, but nowhere near as much preparation as I should have done.
The crest of the Christmas commissions wave had subsided by January, and I was left thinking how much easier things would be now if I’d held onto a steady income. But none of this pondering actually helped.
“This is the situation, so what concrete, attainable things are you going to do?”
On my own, I’ve done the rounds on having a “reptilian” mindset; that is, to achieve an unwaveringly direct sense of purpose, never spending your time, panicking, worrying, envying, doubting or catastrophising your way through the day. But using your time, pointing every sinew in your body towards the things you want to achieve.
A longer appraisal of this might be best left to a different day, but there’s a take-home message for you. Use all of your time. If you can use it smartly, it’ll take a train to stop you achieving what you want.
The key is to develop new skills that directly move your business needle forwards, or add a useful string to your bow. While you have the time, capitalise on it! If it’s too intensive to do lots in one go, chop a few things up into a dedicated portion of the day, and diarise each one. You could even use an entire day.
The “not busy” routine (you could have fooled me)
- 8-9am: Follow a tutorial or two in a new medium. There are thousands, in books and on free/paid platforms. This is exactly how I learned anything I know. Many skills can be transferred and even enhanced just by using a slightly different tool, whereas others will be completely new. You’ll diversify your client base, helping you to draw in more business.
- 9-11am: Work on a piece that challenges you technically, and one for which you expect to see no financial reward. For example – use a very highly detailed reference photo. Or even more challenging, a very blurry one. You’ll discover new methods to circumvent problems you wouldn’t have encountered until it mattered, and at that point, you’ll attack them with speed, style and confidence.
- 11-12pm: Study marketing materials. There’s a reason degree-level courses and beyond are offered in the subject: it’s a data-driven, deep science, and it’s evolving as quickly as you can imagine. But if that seems too intimidating, there are also fundamental principles that’ll never change, and are well worth knowing. Any applicable wisdom can only help.
- 12-1pm: Don’t have a website? Build one, now! Any artist wishing to be taken seriously needs it, as a landing pad for customers of all types, and perhaps galleries if you’re seeking representation. If you feel you’ve done all you can to your site, maybe now’s the time to branch out into a new social media platform onto which you can crosspost and attract a fresh following.
- 1-2pm: Develop an irresistible advert for your business, which you set up to post on a recurring schedule on Facebook or Google Ads. These platforms are now the most powerful anywhere, and allow you to customise your target audience to levels that were never possible before. No more spamming local houses with leaflets, or expensive spreads in blanket coverage local mags. An advert should explain exactly what you do, contain an air-tight guarantee, show where more information can be found (hopefully that website we talked about) and include a “call to action”. If customers don’t respond straight away, it doesn’t mean your advert failed. Familiarity is key. Spend little and often, and the right people will eventually come to know, like and trust you.
- 2-4pm: Feeling fresh? Carry on with that piece you were working on in the morning. Stay intentional and purposeful about the things you want to learn.
- 4-5pm: Think about your brand. What is it about yourself you’re trying to deliver, hand-in-hand with the work? You should take pride in both these things. How are you keeping your public image in line with your core values? If you talk about how much you care about the environment, follow through on that with your actions. For example, yesterday I found a water-proofing non plastic solution for larger flat-pack pieces, here.
That’s 9 hours of work in a day. You didn’t even have time for lunch! You’ve built in tasks you can spread over a week, or every Monday, however you like to do it.
Be sure to enjoy the process of learning new things, knowing you’re actually saving yourself time in the long run, developing yourself sooner, attracting new customers more quickly and establishing your cornerstones of best practice ahead of time.
I’m a hypocrite – I should have followed my own advice straight away. It took seeing the long term partly in retrospect to discover that nothing worthwhile happens straight away. Keep adding a brick or two to the wall when you can, and eventually you’ll have built your house without aching at all.
Above all, have faith in yourself. Stay “reptilian”, and work away happily while you let other people do all the worrying, as it never got anyone anywhere. Instead of that, you’re busy building something that’ll last.