Success Story: An Artist’s Collective Turns the Corner

The CLIENT

The arts economy in New England in general and Greater Boston in particular, is significant.  ArtsBoston, a 175-member not-for-profit arts service organization that researches  important statistics regarding the local arts community, found that more than 18 million visits are made to arts and cultural events every year, ticketed and free events, including dance, musical and theater performances; visits to museums and art galleries; and attendance at ethnic cultural festivals.

It has been my pleasure to work with two of the three most respected collectives of visual artists in Boston including the largest, whose membership exceeds 200.  Eighteen months ago,  the larger organization referred to me the smaller, 80-member, loosely  affiliated sister organization. The two have overlapping memberships, where nearly the entire membership of the smaller are also members of the larger group.  The membership of both collectives consists primarily of painters, sculptors and photographers, with a smattering of ceramacists and artisans such as bookbinders and calligraphers. Management for each group is separate and independent.

All artists in the collectives maintain studios in an art and design district consisting of several 19th century former warehouse buildings and the artists of the smaller collective are all located in one of those buildings.

Both collectives offer nearly identical special events programming as a method to reach out to potential art collectors.  Each holds an annual open studios art walk event, where member artists open their studios and invite the public in at no charge to see, discuss and when visitors choose, purchase artwork.  Since 1986, the larger group has held its signature open studios event in September and the smaller group holds its annual event in May.  Additionally, since about 1998, the smaller group has held the monthly open studios event branded as First Friday.

The CHALLENGE

The smaller arts collective was facing increasingly diminished audiences for First Fridays, which are held on the first Friday of every month from 5:00 – 9:00 PM January through December.  Attendance at its May open studios event was likewise softening. Artist membership in the group had stagnated.

Competition between the local artist collectives has in recent years become intense, the result of a proliferation of open studios events that has diluted the target audience of middle class to affluent collectors who reside in the tonier city and suburban enclaves.  Boston has 22 neighborhoods and 12 annual open studios events, with dates coordinated by the city and held from April to November each year.  Additionally, nearly every city or town contiguous to Boston, plus numerous outlying suburbs, have over the years launched open studios art walks.  In July and August the action moves to the historic summer artist colonies in MA, including Cape Ann, Provincetown and towns in the Berkshire mountains that beckon to vacationers from around the country.

The DECISION

The collective is managed by two member volunteers.  They reached out to their counterparts in the larger organization and asked how that group managed to maintain attendance for its annual open studios event, which has reversed previously declining numbers.

Within two weeks I met with the leaders of the smaller collective and after listening to their story,  recommended that an energized marketing plan would most likely provide the remedy.  Over the past three or four years,  a shortage of time and a dose of complacency had caused the managers to slack off on marketing their events to the target audience.  Recently, First Fridays had been listed in only one print and three online events listing services.

Member art sales were shrinking because fewer collectors or potential collectors visited studios.  Membership in the collective was dropping slowly, as artists re-examined the value of the collective at renewal time.  Operating income was negatively impacted. Artist participation in First Fridays waned, which could only cause the target audience attendance to wane.  It was an impending death spiral.

The SOLUTION

A comprehensive and consistently implemented marketing campaign was launched in an increased number of targeted print and online media outlets, which was the core of a strategy to greatly improve outreach to collectors and potential collectors.  More visits to studios would enhance the possibility of art sales and promote the conversion of aspiring collectors to collector status.  Over the subsequent months, additional media outlets were identified and included in the campaign.  Presently, 14 online media outlets and five print outlets now carry the First Friday listings each month and the listing for the annual open studios event in May.

A paid display ad (one-quarter page) will now appear annually in a free print publication that has high readership among tourists to Boston, since outreach to that group has become a priority.  To estimate the potential impact of tourist dollars on contemporary art sales in Boston, in 2016 the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston, which features 21st century art only, received 210,000 visitors, according to the Boston Business Journal (and the Museum of fine Arts, the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science each received in excess of 1.1 million visitors).

Content marketing is also part of the campaign launch, designed to reach the collective’s members and non-members through the collective’s newsletter.  Membership retention and recruitment are in many ways the heart of the marketing campaign for without active and engaged members who believe in the mission and are happy to carry it out, the collective will cease to exist.

The monthly newsletter now includes a member artist spotlight that features an image of the artist’s work plus a brief artist bio.  The artists volunteer to participate and the response has been enthusiastic.  As a way to persuade the 10 -15 non-members in the building of the collectives’ benefits, an annual newsletter customized to provide an update of the work that the collective’s members find especially useful and making an appeal to join is now being sent.

The RESULT

The number of visitors to First Fridays has gradually climbed to about 500 on average each month.  As documented by the managers, historic lows occur in January and February, when attendance can dip as the temperature drops, the snow piles up and only 200 or so art aficionados will attend First Friday.  Months with the highest visitors are April through June and September through December, when up to 700 visitors may appear.

Membership in the collective has risen over the past 12 months from just over 70 to 80 members.  There remains 10 -15 artists in the building who are non-members.  The group hopes that one or two non-members will sign up each year.

I hope you enjoyed the case study.  Thanks for reading.

Kim

 

 

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Six Steps To A Successful Marketing Campaign

Numerous times I’ve advised Freelance professionals to launch a marketing campaign to promote themselves and their services. How about we touch base regarding the core components of a successful marketing campaign?

I.   Identify your target audience

Step One, you must understand who you want your campaign to reach and influence and that would be those clients and prospects who are most inclined to use your product or service. It is possible that along the way others may become interested in what you have to offer and new or niche markets can be recruited, but target market groups must have the motive and money to use your category of product or service.

Step Two, decide the channels that you will use to reach current and prospective clients. Marketing campaigns are most effective when they broadcast the message through various media: print display ads, videos, testimonials on your website, or a case study. Social media can also be part of a well-designed marketing campaign, if you can engage current and prospective clients through those platforms. The members of your target audience could be reached more than once and that is a good thing.

There is also the indirect and ongoing marketing campaign that Freelancers are advised to conduct. Providers of B2B services especially should periodically attempt to line up an appearance on a webinar, a panel, or at a conference podium as a way to enhance the value of the intangible resources that you sell, that is, your expertise and judgment. Sponsorship of a local charity is also a good choice for some. Remember to send a press release to the local newspaper to try for yet another channel. A newspaper (or online) item is more believable than a print ad, because it is perceived as unbiased.

2.  Know the competition

As you create your marketing campaign message, keep direct competitors in mind. The marketing message should promote the expertise, experience, judgment and attributes that make you superior to others with whom clients and prospects might do business. Your message should be designed to overcome current or potential objections to you and persuade those with motive and money to choose you because hiring you will make them look good.

3.  Identify the key marketing message

What do you need to make known to current and potential clients that will help them to develop the trust and confidence needed to do business with you? Refer to your knowledge of the competition and also refer to client hot buttons and address those issues clearly and convincingly.

4.  Build the brand

In the marketing message and campaign, find ways to enhance your brand, that is, your reputation. Clients do business with those they know and like; they do even more business with those they trust and respect. Building up your image, or (tactfully) bragging about your already noteworthy image is a key element of your marketing message.

5.  Create a budget

Time and money are among our greatest resources. Once you have your version of the ideal marketing plan in draft form, calculate the financial cost and a roll-out timeline. Make sure that the campaign ROI makes sense for your venture. Tie your marketing efforts to expected sales, to the best of your ability and don’t squander your resources on fruitless strategies.

6. Track performance

I’m a little bit backward in that an important step in the campaign will be mentioned last. Establishing goals and objectives for your campaign are a must-do. This process will guide you in making decisions that shape what the campaign will consist of and furthermore, will help you understand what kind of influence you can wield through marketing. Decide what you want your marketing campaign to achieve and confirm the metrics that will measure and acknowledge its success or failure.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Keeping Tabs on the Competition

Merry Christmas! No matter what business you’re in,  it is important to be aware of the activities of competitors.   We can learn a lot from them,  lessons of  both the what-to-do and what-not-to-do variety.   But be mindful that it is inadvisable to base your marketing strategies and sales stories on what competitors do and say.  Such an approach is reactive.  Your business interests are better served when being  proactive.

In other words,  it’s smarter to be yourself.  That takes a certain amount of confidence,  yet there will be no real success in life or business without a secure and healthy sense of self.  Without that character trait,  one cannot be authentic.  Clients respond best to authenticity.

To help yourself stay true to yourself,  start by acknowledging your strengths and remind yourself of where you excel.  Next,  as you monitor the competition,  rather than obsessing over what they are doing, pay attention instead to what they’re not  doing.  Where and how can you deliver value that clients will value and how can you best package and deliver it?

Another big way to beat the competition is to create a good experience for the client.  Think about how it may feel to do business with yourself.  Do you make it easy? Do your business practices inspire trust and confidence? Are you able to anticipate and show empathy for client needs?

Do some reality-testing  while on an assignment and ask your client this:  “What can I do to make things better,  easier,  faster?”  This little question let clients know that you’re willing to go the extra mile and provide services that make their lives easier.  You’ll  look like a hero,  you’ll strengthen client relationships and you’ll position yourself to grab some all-important repeat business.  You may even tweak your business model if you find out that certain of your practices can be an inconvenience.

If you have friends and family who in their jobs hire Freelancers,  ask them what they’d like to see more of and less of in the vendors they work with.  Ask them about what types of behaviors they consider red flags and deal-breakers.   Ask them if they could hand-craft the experience they have when interacting with their Freelance consultants,  what would it look like?

I’ll let you in on a few pearls that were recently shared with me:

  • Let the client know how you will work
  • Answer frequently asked questions before the  client has to ask them
  • Set up a timetable to let them know when they can expect the deliverables and when key milestones will be reached

Aim to make your clients feel guided and taken care of.  This inclines them to trust you and allows them to relax and know that a professional is in control.  You look like a real pro because you are always a step ahead.  You know how to land the plane,  the project is in expert hands and they look like a genius for hiring you.  This also supports premium pricing because you demonstrate in all ways that you are worth the money.   Ta-dah,  you can and will beat the competition!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Love Thy Competitor

If you are the type of Freelancer/business owner who believes that a primary business goal is to annihilate and destroy your competition,  then you’re likely destined to become a less successful entrepreneur.  Research can now demonstrate the wisdom of the adage,  “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

A 2004 study conducted by James Westphal,  professor of management at University of Texas/Austin,  examined CEO friendships in 293 U.S. companies and found that regardless of the intensity of competition within a given industry,  rival CEOs who formed friendships enjoyed distinct business-related advantages over those who shunned competitors.

According to Westphal,  not only is it possible to make friends with competitors,  it’s advisable.  He explained the advantages of friendships among rivals this way:  when business owners get together,  what do we do?  Talk shop.  We compare notes,  discuss what’s new in the industry,  talk about the economy and how it’s impacting customer behavior.

In other words,  by going to trade industry conferences and meeting,  greeting and getting to know rival Freelancers,  you’ll obtain information and get exposure to perspectives that can help make you more successful.  So think about following a bit of counter-intuitive advice and realize that business is not always a zero-sum game.  A competitor’s win does not automatically mean your loss.

If getting chummy with the competition makes you feel a little queasy,  then get friendly with a competitor based in another locale.  The distance will create a boundary that could make it comfortable for the two of you to trade ideas about cheap and savvy advertising options,  how to make your clients happy,  or how to take advantage of,  or protect yourself from,  market trends.

In some instances,  you may decide to collaborate with a competitor.  It’s potentially risky,  but forging a strategic  collaboration with one of your competitors can benefit the bottom line and help both entities to thrive.  It can be a smart expansion or survival strategy for Freelancers and other small business owners who are trying to remain viable.  Maybe there is a partnership you can set up with the right semi-rival?   It’s called coopetition.

Get to know a fellow Freelancer who works in your own,  or a related,  field.  It’s preferable if each of you has discrete strengths,  with limited potential for overlap.  Meet for coffee and broach the subject of joining forces to make money.  How can you combine your strengths and approach clients with an innovative and more desirable package?  There’s nothing better than giving clients more reasons to do business with you.

Collaborations can work in a number of ways.  Just a couple of months ago,  a lady named Julie presented me with an idea where we can add-on or up-sell certain of each others’ services.  There is potentially a complementary need in a market segment that we share and Julie wondered if some selective cross-promotion would be beneficial.  Together,  we’re hoping to gain entry to clients where separately neither could get in the door.

Another form of coopetition is establishing a referral relationship with a near-rival.  Accountants and bookkeepers have done this forever,  with much success.  Their functions have similarities,  but each party knows and respects the boundaries and knows how to work together.

Nevertheless,  do not be naive.  Take precautions and clearly define boundaries and expectations.  Watch your back and work only with someone you know to be trustworthy.  Also,  do not underestimate the potential for difficulties in establishing and sustaining a coopetition arrangement.  Assumptions about appropriate customer service or corporate culture can derail your best intentions.  Careful planning and execution are crucial if coopetition is to work smoothly.  In close collaborations,  a written non-disclosure, non-compete agreement will be essential.

Finally,  remember where friendship ends and business begins.  There will be sensitive issues that are best kept to yourself,  like new business initiatives or the  “secret sauce”  of how you deliver your unique services.  Keep your antennae raised as you and a worthy competitor mull over ways to share resources or expertise and boost profits in the process.

Thanks for reading,

Kim