For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a camera in my hands. Since age 10. A real, legit, 35mm “pro” camera. The Canon AE-1 SLR with a 50mm lens. She was my first love. It was all she wrote after that.
Fast forward to year 36. I’d traveled the world with my cameras, documenting the cultural preservation of displaced populations in post conflict communities. That’s a mouthful.
I’d had major clients, like Whole Foods and Nissan and even been a line producer for nationally televised commercials for a big fast food joint that shall remain nameless.
It was all too much. That last gig for the soulless corporation landed me in a not very good place. Chained to a freelance career that was taking me to new production places but leaving me at the mercy of a gig-to-gig lifestyle producing shit work for faceless corporations.
I broke. It was inevitable. And in that broken period, I realized two things. I needed to make true art again. And I needed to stop doing the production work.
So, I stopped. I waited for something to show itself. And, over the next few months, my sidehustle of consulting small businesses on communication strategies for social media evolved into a website production business.
A small, nimble, one-woman business that found a place in the world of chiropractors transitioning to functional medicine. Can’t niche down more than that, huh?
I built this business up for 4 years. I incorporated. I learned to hack together my bookkeeping and I learned the value of a balance sheet. I learned how to break my limiting beliefs around money and I learned how to fucking make money.
I also learned, just recently, the value of paid advertising on social media. Now, I know it has tremendous value in theory and I’ve seen the success stories left and right. But I’ve never applied it directly to my own business. During the last year, as my website company has evolved into a more robust communications agency, I’ve been able to work with clients in securing their paid digital media strategies. And the process has been eye-opening.
I get to see the actual advertising dollars in action and the study the metrics in real time and I see how this all works now. In real life scenarios.
But more than anything, 2016 has taught me to stop being romantic about how I make my money. That’s a GaryV line there, but when I first heard that line, it reverberated throughout my being.
I’ve always been romantic about how I make my money. My entire creative process is grounded in the romance of film and analog. I couldn’t be any more romantic about my art. I get pissed at so many things about where my industry has gone over the past decade that I spend more time than I care to admit stewing over the current state of professional photography and resenting the less than stellar “artists” who know business-- not art.
I’m romantic. Period.
About three weeks ago, I clicked on a fucking Instagram ad for an art ecommerce website and my whole world shifted. I stepped into a ridiculous digital sales funnel (willingly) and rode the wave of their sales machine towards a new business.
That’s right. One fucking ad on Instagram (which I not so long ago said was creepy because it was serving me what the algorithm thought I wanted) has allowed me to finally step into that second declarative statement when I was broken by commercial TV production.
Here was the perfect platform to deliver all the shiny technology, metrics, analytics and social media behaviors in one fabulous bundle designed to do one thing only-- SELL ART.
And I pulled the trigger. As a business woman selling a finished product created by me many moons ago.
I launched business number two-- officially-- to finally be an artist running a business around her art.
Without romance. Without limiting beliefs. Without old narratives of “artists can’t make money and run a business”.
Fuck all of that. This artist right here is now a business woman. And she’s merging her art with her entrepreneurial experience to make something big and juicy.
And yes, I just referred to myself in the 3rd person, deal with it.
Here’s the thing, when you take romance out of the equation and the notion that art and commerce can’t co-exist, it becomes a numbers game. Simply, cut and dry numbers.
Using this website platform to sell images really does take so much of the guesswork out of selling art. If I drive X amount of traffic to the site and convert 1-2% of that traffic into sales, I can make X amount of dollars each month. Simple, right?
And guess what? My communications business has taught me how to drive traffic.
Now, I just have to set everything up like a real business-- which is a formula that I can follow-- put some serious sweat and love into the work and then study the numbers. Tweak strategy, study numbers, monitor conversions and create a sales engine for my work.
Oh, and then I get to create more art. With a powerful economic engine behind the production of that art.
That, my friends, is the evolution of an artistic entrepreneur. It didn’t happen overnight, but it is happening.
Follow me on this journey and I’ll show you how I navigate the ins and outs of making a million-dollar documentary art photography business.