I’ll start with an apology for missing last week’s update, but my excuse is solid – I ended up in hospital with my three year old, we were in there for five days and blogging was low on my list of priorities. Babezilla has since made a speedy recovery, and to make up for my omission this week I have something great to share – the first part of my interview with Clare Yuille, the founder of Indie Retail Academy and the go-to retail coach for artists and designers who want to get wholesale right first time.
Clare helps creative people get their products onto indie retailers’ shelves in a way that’s non-icky (for them) and non-terrifying (for us artists), and she does so with kindness, humor and charm. She was kind enough to give all interested bloggers an opportunity to interview her, and I used mine to hear her thoughts on artists’ communication with their audience. Read on!
Q: Artists are often reminded how important it is to get people’s emails and stay in touch with them via a mailing list newsletter. But we often put off making the mailing list, stop sending out newsletters after a few times, or fill them with very samey content – I have this new thing for sale, I have made a deal with this new partner, yay. Besides the ‘salesy’ stuff, what sort of content do you personally most enjoy seeing in artists’ newsletters?
A: We don’t actually receive a lot of artists’ newsletters, which I think is a great pity. They’re an excellent way to keep your stockists in the loop. Often, creative people expend a huge amount of energy tracking down and convincing a retailer to buy, then forget all about them as soon as their first order has been dispatched. That’s a pretty exhausting way to do business in my view.
Another common issue with newsletters is that the retailer never signed up to them in the first place. We get stacks of these. An artist lifts our address from our website, adds it to their mailing list without our permission and we get a ton of unsolicited email.
That’s not just annoying – it’s actually against the law. International spam laws prohibit this kind of thing, and if your mailing list provider finds out (which they will, because of all the unsubscribes and complaints) they can shut down your account. Not a good idea.
But when they’re done well, artists’ newsletters can be a thing of joy. We actually like the salesy stuff. If you’re working on a new collection or you have a special offer going on, I very much want to know about that. Don’t be scared of selling to us. We like it!
In terms of other content, I think lists of helpful links are good – something like Nubby Twiglet does with her Link Love posts. I won’t lie to you, when you run your own shop, some days you just want to hide in the office. A curated list of articles is great for those times when you want to give your brain a rest (while looking terribly busy.) I like it when artists include a couple of retail-specific articles, a couple of general creative-business articles, and then some stuff that’s just cool and interesting.
If you get in the habit of collecting these articles as you roam around the internet, a links newsletter shouldn’t be too hard to put together. It allows you to provide something that’s helpful to your stockist – which makes us feel you really understand us – without going on about yourself all the time. It also gets your retailers used to the feeling that an email from you contains something valuable and important.
Q: Another area most artists struggle with is what they post on their social media. It’s becoming hard to judge how well we’re doing in our communication efforts, since less and less people leave comments – the impersonal ‘like’ seems to have become the norm of audience reaction. Observing well-established art blogs and pages it seems that even they suffer from this lack of interaction, in spite of continuously posting engaging content, asking questions, and reaching out in various ways. Any suggestions on how to either encourage more genuine audience interaction (beyond the dreaded ‘SHARE, LIKE AND COMMENT TO WIN XXXX!!’), or how to keep the faith and struggle on in spite of its lack?
A: I’m a bit of a refusenik on this one. I think comments, likes and follows are lovely, but you can’t pay the rent with them. The metric I want artists to pay most attention to is sales.
Having said that, you need to do something to reach out to your right people. If you just build your business, fling the doors open and wait for hordes of customers to arrive – well, I hope you brought a good book. If you want to be successful, you need a way to send up a bat signal – something that guides the right kind of customer towards you.
So what I recommend is this: pick one thing and do it really, really well. It might be facebook, blogging, twitter, podcasts, sending out newsletters – pick one route and concentrate on it. According to some small-business experts, we’re supposed to be writing engaging blog posts, posting on facebook at peak times, making world-class videos and tweeting valuable content every day.
I say that can’t be done – or at least, not by most one-person creative businesses, who also have to make and sell a product. It’s too much.
So my suggestion is to choose one way of getting in touch with potential buyers, and get seriously good at it. That doesn’t mean you have to completely ignore everything else, but that one thing is where your energy goes. Next, decide how you’ll measure if it’s working.
If you’re writing newsletters, you can look at your open rate and the number of replies you get. If it’s facebook, you can track the virality of your posts. Most of all, you need to keep an eye on whether all this effort is resulting in sales. It might take a while, and there probably won’t be a strictly linear correlation, but you need to know if what you’re doing is contributing to your bottom line.
It is disheartening when you post something on your blog and it sinks without a trace. But if that was your first post in three months and it consisted of your musings about how it’s nearly October already, well, it’s probably no great mystery. Whatever route you choose, you’ll be successful if you do two things:
First, show up regularly. What “regularly” means is up to you, but it does have to be a sustained effort.
Second, keep answering the question “Why should I listen to you?” Every post, every tweet, every video has to provide something of value to your audience. You might make them laugh, or think, or cry, or educate them. That’s up to you, but you have to give them something.
If you do all this, keep going for long enough and find a way to also talk about what you sell (without feeling even slightly embarrassed) you’ll see results.
Q: On a similar note – we’re often advised to keep reaching out to new clients, and to not take an initial lack of response as a rejection. The advice holds up well in the beginning, but after three or four missives sent a few weeks or months apart, one runs out of new ways of saying ‘Dude, are you even reading these things?’. What are your favorite formulations of follow-up emails that reference the previous contacts made but don’t put pressure on the other side? Also is there a point where one should say to oneself ‘Ok, I’ve obviously misjudged it, I should leave these guys alone now.’ or should we be like that one ex boyfriend that’s still sending you birthday cards twenty years after you broke up?
A: I think you have to, eventually, draw a line. My general recommendation is that you follow up on a pitch around ten days to two weeks later. If you still get no response, put this retailer on the back burner for now. If you still feel that they’re likely to be interested in stocking your work (and you should, otherwise you wouldn’t have written to them in the first place, right?) then you can get back in touch when you have something new to say in a month or two.
If you consistently get no response, find out if that person even still works there. Or consider if you’d be better off approaching a different member of staff. Also think about what you’re saying. There’s no magic formula for this – all you have to do is be confident, relaxed, enthusiastic about the potential partnership and show you have some knowledge of their business.
Things not to do when following up (but which are pretty common): Being whiny or shrill, seeming desperate, sucking up too much, being too formal or over-familiar, getting angry. However you feel inside, your follow-up should come from a position of strength. There are a lot of other retailers in the world – if this one doesn’t work out, you have many more to choose from.
And if you still don’t hear anything – it’s their loss. Your beautiful work will be make the tills of their competitors ring instead.
End of Part 1 – Part 2 talks about making your art appealing to sellers, and will be published next Wednesday.
Tell me those weren’t the greatest answers you’ve heard on this topic in a long time? I’m really grateful to Clare for giving us this opportunity to ask her questions and learn from her (seemingly bottomless pit of) knowledge. If you want to become even more impressed with her, I warmly suggest that you visit her Indie Retail Academy, download her free starter kit for artists who want to sell to indie retailers, and subscribe to her informative, smart and genuinely funny newsletter. Also read all the awesome articles on the Indie Retail Academy site. Yeah, I know. I told you she was amazing.