Hi guys <3
I recently had a coaching call that helped me complete some important projects I was holding back. As with a lot of simple but true advice, it led me down tangents that I know will be helpful for others, so I’m sharing what we talked about and the changes I’ve been making since.
Obviously I’m a big fan of the Inspirational Creatives Podcast, so I was psyched when Rob Lawrence offered an hour of his coaching time to five listeners and I got a spot. Before the call he emailed and asked me to describe my biggest challenge or frustration right now. The process of writing back was a good exercise, narrowing it down made me identify what would have the biggest impact on my improvement. Here’s my response:
Really looking forward to our chat. The thing I'm struggling with the most is building engagement and community behind my work.
I am an artist who uses photography to capture remote, untouched wildlife in moments of peak beauty. My intent is to transfer the therapeutic benefits of nature to my viewer by giving them a scene to escape into, and a visual reminder on their wall to take time out to observe their thoughts, calm their mind, and breathe deeply. Essentially I prescribe you spend 15 minutes a day looking at one of my images and you will see benefits in focus, health and happiness.
So many successful people on your podcast cite mindfulness as their main catalyst to success. I'm wondering if this is how I am serving others with my work and the thing that I can begin to build a community around. I need a better vision of what I want my community to look like so that I can attract people who could benefit from it.
Talk to you soon!
When the call started Rob and I began by chatting about the importance of constraints and how they counterintuitively give artists a lot of leverage to be creative. This concept is a hard thing to rationalize - makers tend to want limitless materials, subjects, and audiences for their work. But when I analyze the artists that are the most financially and creatively successful, they are pretty damn specific about their subject and process. I couldn’t help thinking about the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibit that was up last year at the MoMA. By the end of his career Matisse had simplified his materials to paint washed paper and a large pair of scissors. From those he filled room after room with colorful murals buzzing with energy and life. If you watch this video of him cutting you’ll see he's in a kind of trance channeling a creative energy that seems tuned specifically for him.
Constraints also matter for time management. Realistically most people struggle to consistently work on projects that impact their progress. Personally there are many days that I know the best use of my time would be to write, but that is the hardest most focused work I can think of, and it’s easy to kick the start time back until I’m out of day or energy. As annoying as it is, I can’t quite will myself to work just because I know it will be good for me - not very often anyway.
Finding time is a mindset you need to adapt to as you age. Whereas a few years ago my life used to look like 5 classes a week with no responsibilities in between, it has quickly expanded to include a husband, work, staying healthy, keeping a good home and developing a creative business at the same time. All of these things matter, but it's easier to put off the hard stuff like trying something new in my business for tomorrow.
In order to combat procrastination tendencies, I’ve been modeling a lot of my routine after Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Morning. Hal’s process is to put aside a block of time first thing every morning to dedicate to tasks that are the highest impact. Things like journaling, exercise, mindfulness and practice. By doing these as soon as you wake up you guarantee that progress in personal development will be made every day no matter what. Lately I’ve been taking my morning hours to crochet and drink coffee before I start anything serious, and it feeds the beast in me that complains when there is hard work to be done. When I take care of my happiness first, I’m way more willing to do the things that matter during the rest of the day. Plus now I have several yarn experiments going, and I actually smile when I wake up and realize I get to work on them.
Being regimented about the structure of each day is way more productive than leaving tasks to chance. The brand new Jocko Podcast has a catchphrase for this idea that I’m really fond of which is: discipline = freedom. Expanded slightly, I take this to mean that if you train yourself to work rigorously and in a strategic way, you will be able to complete otherwise unattainable goals. I think that’s what most people want, to become better than their best. If this concept interests you and you want a no nonsense SEAL team leader to drill it into your head I recommend you listen to his first few episodes. Jocko is a dedicated intellectual that gets a lot done because of his systems, and his insights into war leadership apply to business and life.
Tangents over :) back to the call:
Knowing that ICP has a highly engaged and supportive community of listeners, I asked Rob to describe the process he used to attract and keep his fans. Surprisingly, he traced everything back to defining the single avatar of who he was making his show for. When he got really clear about all aspects of that one person - their age, gender, lifestyle, goals, habits and routines - decisions like what questions to ask his guests, when to publish episodes, and how to design the website were easy. Continually making work that spoke to that avatar produced a consistent narrative in his show. Episode after episode, the ICP guests reveal that they became successful by sharing their ideas with others and allowing collaboration into their process. This is very attractive and comforting to me as an audience member, because I look forward to new interviews that arrive every week and inspire me to be more outgoing.
Now, avatars are not a new concept to me. I’ve been told to create one many times, but always dismissed the idea because I didn’t want to visualize my audience as a 35 year old woman with a comfortable career and a love for landscapes. It just didn’t seem useful. However, the progression of my conversation with Rob helped me see that an avatar is really more about creative constraints than it is about an actual person. By making a series of extremely specific guidelines under which to determine everything I write and make, my audience avatar becomes a mechanism to flourish and produce superior work.
To clarify, speaking directly to that avatar does not mean that your audience will be made up entirely of that personality type. In fact, being precise in content creation has the side effect of attracting a lot of fans who don't fit the profile. This is for two reasons:
- Decisions are attractive
- Clarity is polarizing
When you produce a targeted message, some people will be turned off by your work. But again, counterintuitively this is a good thing because those you are left with form a natural community that authentically connects with what you have to say. The successful use of an avatar has never been more clear to me than my unexplainable love for the Art of Charm Podcast. Their target audience is men who want to advance their social skills in work and dating. They make content tailored specifically for ambitious males, and yet nearly half of their audience are curious females like me. Because they are so clear about their message and intent, they magnetize every possible demographic that has an interest in self improvement.
When I finally understood how the fan base of my favorite podcasts formed, it made it clear to me that I don’t get to decide what my community will look like. A strong audience will form in unexpected ways once I put enough constraints on my process. After a few days of thinking about it, I decided to sit down and describe who I really wanted to be talking to. Here’s the first draft of my avatar:
Kat's recently been going through a mindset change, reducing what she owns to keep only the quality items. Her space is so functional without the usual clutter that she's decided to set up her living room for entertaining friends.
Kat's biggest anxiety is picking a nice artwork to display on her wall. It’s important that it represents her, but even more so, she wants to be able to tell people why she likes it when they inevitably ask. She’s started to look around in a few galleries, but a lot of the messaging in what she’s seen goes over her head, and it doesn’t seem obvious why some pieces are worth more than others.
Kat wants to learn how to relax, because it’s easy to let being busy make her feel validated. Most of her best memories were made outdoors, but she hasn’t yet found a way to incorporate nature into her urban life.
Kat doesn’t know that art can help her with these things, but she is about to find out.
It was fun to start working on my profile. The effect of understanding and then completing the exercise had an immediate impact on my ability to start writing faster and be more confident in the messaging of my art. For example, I improved the clarity of my posts on Instagram:
Good application of keywords, but not a very useful or exciting story for the reader.
Even though this image received fewer likes, the post got me a retweet from a yoga studio, which is good evidence that my art is being seen by the people who will most likely appreciate it.
Lucky for me the next day Rob and his mastermind partner Steve Palfreyman hosted a Blab session open to questions and I got a second chance ask for advice. The group was already on the topic of money, so I wanted to know what they would suggest for someone like me who is still developing their first sales. Here are some of the points we discussed that resonated best:
- Start running small sales tests, the simpler the better. They should be like a short science experiment where the answer is clear - yes or no.
- Keep trying as many new ideas as you can afford.
- Consider a pay what you can model for the first few sales. You may be surprised where people value your work.
- You can also think about some items as lost leaders in a long term strategy to familiarize clients with your brand.
- Have fun with it, that’s the whole point.
So I took all that in, got inspired, and made something I’ve been wanting to roll out for a while now - my Keepsake Card collection. It’s a purchase by donation format, which I was initially scared to implement. But at a certain point I realized that I didn’t have to do a trust fall with my biggest most treasured pieces, just the ones I was comfortable running an experiment with. My Keepsake Cards are the best nature studies I've done, and feature blocks of beautiful color that are best suited to a small print format. I’m excited because it allows my audience to give me feedback on their preferences with little influence on my part. Also, those fans who are priced out of my larger artwork can still own a framed card of the same quality, support my progress as an artist, and feel like they're a part of the A&B NYC community.
Producing the copy for this new page became laughably easy with the new avatar to write for (it made me wonder what I was doing before…). I’d love it if you have a look and let me know how I did in the comments.
So happy you read to the end, this post was a monster so I must have hit some points home. If you appreciate my writing I’d love for you to share what you found most helpful on social media.
Have a great day everyone and hope to see you back here soon,