The Number 1 Mistake Creatives Make, and Other Business Wisdom From My Interview With Cory Huff

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I’m excited to present you with today’s post– a Q&A with art business expert, Cory Huff, of The Abundant Artist. He’s a guy who knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t shy away from the tough questions. I hope you enjoy!

1. So, Cory, could you tell us about your website (The Abundant Artist) and how you work with artists?

Cory-HuffI started The Abundant Artist as a blog to explore the relationships between creativity and money. I grew up working-class poor and really didn’t understand how people made money. After working in Internet marketing for a few years, I began this blog as a way of applying some of what I’d learned to the Arts.

As I blogged more, my friends and new readers started asking me to teach some group courses. I did that and then that turned into pre-recorded courses. Then people started asking me about one-on-one coaching. So I started doing that.

Basically, the whole thing evolved very organically. To my surprise, a three year side project turned into my full time gig about a year ago. Some of the artists I started working with in the very early days have had what most artists would consider a lot of success. It’s been really fun to experience artists discovering that they can do what they love and get paid for it.

2. When did it click for you that you could pursue your passions through online entrepreneurship (and help others do the same)?

About two years ago I realized I had a thousand email subscribers. That’s when I realized that I’d hit a nerve with talking about how artists can make money. It was around that time when I decided that I was going to turn this into my full time business.

I was working for a software company at the time, doing marketing strategy. It was a great job, but the thought of working for myself was really enticing. So, I would get up around 6 AM every day and write for an hour before going to work. After work I would go home and work for an hour. On Tuesdays I would work for the entire night.

In early 2013, I woke up one morning and realized that I literally had so many artists asking for coaching that I couldn’t possibly do that and do my job. I had a little mini breakdown and called my wife. We agreed that I would quit my job and pursue TAA full time. I walked into my boss’ office and let him know.

3. What is the #1 mistake you see artists making when they set out to sell their work online?

An Old Mac

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Perhaps lack of research.

Artists need to understand that not everyone is going to enjoy their art, and that’s totally normal. The artist needs to do some research and see where they fit in relationship to other artists. This includes pricing, which websites you’re being featured on, who your target collectors are, and what kind of language you use to talk to your target collectors.

4. What advice can you give to someone who just can’t seem to make sales?

Call me. Let’s talk.

Most likely the problem is that you’re not well positioned. You don’t know who your target audience is, or you’re not speaking to them effectively.

For experienced artists that are seeing a dip in sales, I’d take a look at one of two things. Your mindset or market changes.

Some artists get burned out by their art careers and need to make a change in what they create or how they sell it, but they’re too afraid to rock the boat so they watch their sales slowly dwindle away. Some artists are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their gallery closes due to unforeseen circumstances or they aren’t adapting to modern marketing techniques.

5. How does an artist distinguish between the slowness of starting a new business vs. perhaps needing to sharpen their skills and create a better product?

[This may be one of the trickiest aspects of being a creative in business, because everyone feels self-conscious from time to time. So, on one hand, an artist needs to develop confidence in the face of criticism. But, on the other hand, taking criticism seriously can be valuable for developing a product that people will buy. How would you recommend someone begin to investigate this?]

The truth is that good entrepreneurs are always learning because they never know enough. There’s always a way to screw it up, so you just do the best you can. Art doesn’t have to be amazing to sell. You have to learn to embrace failure as a way of experimenting with your business. Make little tweaks all of the time.

Get feedback from your audience. What do they like? What do they dislike? Ask them why. Talk to your audience. They will tell you what works and what doesn’t.

On taking criticism: If people give you specific criticism on what you can do better (I’m not sure how to pay for your art on your website), that’s helpful. If someone criticizes you generally (you’re art sucks), that’s not helpful. Don’t listen to the latter.

Also, if the critic is someone who, as Brene Brown puts it, is in the arena with you, then you can value their criticism more. If that person is doing similar work or is another artist trying to make it, then their advice is probably valuable. People sitting the bleachers watching have no idea how hard it is.

6. In your experience, what kind of timeline do you think a fledgling creative entrepreneur should be prepared for?

Jewelry Artist Toiling Away

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[In other words, how long do you think is reasonable to toil away without seeing a return?]

Assuming you are at the skill level of the average art school graduate, probably 1 – 2 years before you begin selling consistently, and 3 – 5 years before you can make a living from your art.

There are artists who do it within a year. These are usually artists who either 1) got lucky and were accepted into a high-end gallery right out of school or 2) have a background in business and had a plan for how to market their work.

There is no shame in having a support job while you build your art business.

7. What technology do you use and/or do you recommend to other artists?

Well Stephanie, you’ve done a great job of distilling this down for creatives, but here’s my partial list of day-to-day tech tools.

WordPress for websites. There are literally thousands of WordPress themes for artists that work with WordPress. Also, a huge community of users means lots of tutorials and plugins, many of them free.

My iPhone. I use it for taking pictures, for staying in touch, and for coaching calls with clients.

I’m a Mac. I’ve never been a big fan of Windows operating systems. I learned how to use a computer on those old colorful Apple iMacs. I’ve been an Apple fan ever since, but I’m not crazy. Use what works for you.

Gmail is the best email app. Period. It does everything every other email app does, plus a bunch more. Here’s a good run down of stuff that will blow your mind about Gmail. My favorite tip: keyboard shortcuts. I can use a single key to send, archive and move to the next email. My inbox rarely has more than 20 – 30 emails in it, and I get hundreds of emails a day. Okay, one more: canned responses. I have a list of emails I commonly send, and Gmail saves those for me. Two clicks and I’m done.

Evernote. This is my second brain. Everything I do or think about doing goes into Evernote. I jot down blog post ideas there in one notebook. Another one contains all of my coaching session notes. My favorite art in another one. Many artists I know keep a separate note for each of their pieces of art, with progress pics and notes on what worked & didn’t work. Bonus: it syncs between your phone and your desktop.

8. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about entrepreneurship?

Fail Harder

Learn to fail hard and fast. Try stuff quickly, and stop doing it quickly if it doesn’t work. Seriously. Fail Harder.+

That wraps the Q&A. Thank you, Cory, for being so generous with your advice.

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll hop over to The Abundant Artist and get on Cory’s email list. His brand new course, Content Marketing for Artists, is just about to close its doors, so make sure you get a chance to check it out!

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