This is my longest post ever (by far) on Expat Journal. It is dedicated to all of my friends out there in the Indie-world, those creative souls trying to make their mark. Agents, galleries and publishers want nothing to do with you until you’ve made it, and then they’re more than willing to take your money. There are many ways to market yourself and sell your creative products. Social media is just one way to get your name and talent recognized, but probably not in the way you think. Am I making a killing as an Indie-photographer? Not really. Do I sell my stuff on a fairly regular basis while traveling the world full-time? Yep, I do. I spent fifty-years in the corporate world, the last thirty as a bank Vice President and Branch Manger. After all those years I’ve developed a pretty good head for business and marketing. I offer this post as a way of giving back a little, I hope that it helps in some small way to further your efforts to succeed. SFD
Are you an Indie-artist? By that I mean are you a creative person (photographer, writer, painter or craftsman), who is striving to be recognized and financially rewarded, without the benefit of a professional sponsor(s): agent, gallery or publisher? If so then welcome to the club, there are literally thousands of us.
Are you waiting to be discovered based on your talent alone? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it’s not going to happen. You can wait, wait and wait some more. I don’t care how long you wait, you will never be discovered by waiting. Sorry to burst your fantasy-bubble, but waiting never gets it done.
Action is what gets things done in life. Until you take [personal] action nothing will happen, you will continue to wait, dream and fantasize. If you are satisfied with that then so be it, if you’re not then you better have a plan and the determination to follow through on that plan. What I’m talking about is self-promotion, self-marketing.
The very concept of self-promotion is an anathema to most creative types. The common refrain heard is: I would never stoop so low. What that really means is that you’re too scared to do it. It is fear holding you back not some noble concept of yourself. Am I right? C’mon be honest here, no one is listening. This is just between you and me, actually it’s between you and you.
Until you bite the bullet and face that fear head-on you’re not going anywhere with your creative talent (in a business sense), and I think that’s sad. Letting fear stand in the way of your dreams is like committing creative (and spiritual) suicide. No one is going to do this for you, you are completely on your own. Hence the term Independent (Indie) Artist (whatever your particular creative genre may be). You, and you alone, are responsible for your success.
Do agents, galleries and publishers still exist? Of course they do. But they don’t want to hear from you, really they don’t. Once you are successful they will be happy to talk with you (and take your money), but not until you reach that point. They deal with the macro side of things (volume), but here’s a little secret no one is willing to share with you: you can make a tidy little living from your creations on the micro side of things (the niche markets).
I’ve spoken many times on this blog about the “business” of photography, and how it differs from the creative, artistic aspect of photography. The same advice applies equally to writers, painters and other craftsman. I’ve talked about business plans, artist’s statements, business cards, professional websites, retail sales and eCommerce sales among other topics. Now I want to say a few things about social media, and how it may prove useful.
First I want to introduce you to a business term and concept: it’s called Synergy. The definition of synergy is as follows: Synergy is the interaction of two or more agents [people or actions] to produce a combined effect [result] greater than the sum of their separate effects. This is important, two or more things working in harmony to create a result greater than if they were working alone [separately].
How does this apply to social media and self-promotion? Lets delve into that in more detail. First of all you are not going to sell your creative efforts on Facebook. Your Facebook friends are just that, they are friends and family. That does not automatically imply that they are customers or even potential customers. And pragmatically speaking your friends and family typically want your creations for free, whether we’re talking about photographic art, books, paintings or other artistic creations (am I right?). To expect otherwise is a pipe dream.
What social media can provide is an entré to a larger group of “potential” customers. That’s the demographic we want to tap into, and essentially drive to our sales venue: and for the Indie-artist that is usually some kind of online eCommerce store. This effort, to be successful, involves synergy (the cooperative effort of multiple social media functions). It sounds complicated, but it’s really rather simple if not easy (it takes knowhow, time, effort and consistency). Here’s how it works, or how it can work in the social media arena.
The components include: email, Facebook (personal), Facebook (business), blog, website and sales venue. All of these components can be implemented free of charge (or for modest setup and maintenance fees). Lets talk about each component separately, and then how they all come together in a synergistic business plan.
Email. We all have email in this day and age, whether it’s Gmail, Yahoo, Ymail or some other service. My service provider of choice is Ymail (it’s a part of Yahoo) and it’s a free service. It’s not perfect, but it suits my purposes, and again it’s 100% free.
We know how to use email for friends and family, but how do we use it for business? First and foremost create a customized and automated signature line. Most, if not all, service providers have this feature available. In addition to your name, this signature line should have hyperlinks to your website, your Facebook business page and to your blog. This means that “every” email you send, or respond to, advertizes your business automatically. This is huge: it’s free, it’s easy, it’s automatic and it exposes your business to a whole new audience.
Setup a separate email group to include: existing customers, potential (prospective) customers and other interested parties. Develop interesting and compelling promotional email messages to send out to this group on a consistent basis, advertizing your business at least weekly or monthly (quarterly or annually isn’t going to cut it). Massage this list on an ongoing basis, deleting and adding addresses as required. Encourage your email recipients to share your emails with like-minded people (this is called leveraging in the business world).
Facebook Personal Page. C’mon I don’t really have to explain this one to you do I? But are you maximizing your page? Do you have easy-to-identify hyperlinks to your Facebook business page, email, website, blog and sales venue? Do you promote your business with interesting posts? Do you ask your friends and family to like and share your business related posts? Do you feature your Facebook business page, website, blog and sales venue and ask people to share these featured sites? Do you do this consistently? Do you share and tout your successes? Sure it’s bragging, but so what?
Facebook Business Page. Do you have a Facebook business page? If not, why not? You should be doing everything on your business page that I’ve recommended for your personal page. The one caveat is to keep posts on your business page business related. No personal stuff, keep it professional. Leave all the cartoons, political and religious statements, personal rants, biases and minutiae on your personal page where it belongs. The business page should be for business only (this isn’t rocket science). Again, don’t forget to have easy-to-identify hyperlinks to your other sites (this is called cross-pollinating). Email and your two Facebook pages are intended to drive business to your blog, website and sales venue.
Lets be clear about something, your friends and family are not going to support (financially) your business venture. You need a much bigger audience full of potential customers. You reach that audience by “boosting” your relevant posts (this costs money) to a pre-selected demographic segment of the Facebook population (you can customize this yourself). You are not looking for likes, you are looking for followers and subscribers (a captive audience). Once you have a captive audience of sufficient numbers you can begin herding them to your sales venue (in my case my sales venue is an eCommerce store located on my website). Likes don’t mean a damn thing (except as ego-gratification), it’s all about building a captive, sustainable [buying] clientage.
Blog (Expat Journal). This is the keystone to everything. Your blog supports the whole social media process. Can’t write? Then you’re shit out of luck I’m afraid. Seriously. Without a blog none this works, and the whole idea of synergy breaks down. Your blog is what keeps people (customers) coming back to you. It’s their reason for returning time after time. Facebook won’t do it, your website won’t do it, your sales venue won’t do it and even your emails won’t do it. People need a compelling reason to keep coming back to you. Your blog is that reason. Seriously, if you’re unwilling to do this then stop reading and just abandon any marketing on social media.
The two most important aspects of a successful blog are content and consistency. Your readers have to find your posts interesting, informative and compelling. They need a reason to come back day after day, and week after week. It can’t be all about the sales message, you have to offer free content with value, with a subtle, professional sales message sprinkled throughout. What do you write about then? I can only share my approach, your approach will have to be customized and personalized to you. I started this blog, Expat Journal, in 2011 (almost five years ago). It is primarily a travel and photography blog, with other interesting tidbits thrown in for good measure and variety.
I share travel experiences, tips and advice on a regular basis. Sometimes serious, sometimes funny, it tends to grab the reader’s interest. Whether folks travel or not, almost everyone is interested in this planet and the people who inhabit it. A common comment I receive is: I travel vicariously through your posts. I do equipment and other product reviews, and offer my insights into what works and what doesn’t work. I share my thoughts about being location-independent and being a slo-traveler. I share finances, budgets and living conditions. I talk about food, lodging and transportation. I talk about the expat life: the whys, the wherefores, the good, the bad and the ugly. I talk about my philosophy, motto and mantra: Live Simple, Live Cheap, Live Free.
I write about my passion, photography. I talk about my business Indochine Photography. I share my photos, and I include many backstories about how the photographs came to be (the people and places involved). I promote my work here, and direct people to my website at www.IndochinePhotography.me. I talk about the artistic side of photography, and also the business side of photography. Again, I provide equipment and product reviews based upon my own personal experience, without commercial reward or consideration. I share things I’ve learned through study and through trial & error. I talk about cameras, lenses and Photoshop. I talk about everything I can think of. I try to share freely from my sixty-plus years of snapping shutters.
In an effort to keep the blog interesting, compelling and not boring, I also share events from my life (again some are serious and some are funny and some are just plain tragic) from time-to-time. Sometimes I will write philosophically, sometimes I will write politically and sometimes I will just rant. I will share my interest in history, literature and the world’s religions. I will talk about my love of single-malt Scotch whisky, premium cigars, beautiful women and dogs. There is no end of subjects to talk about.
Share your passions, your areas of expertise, your world views. Write about your life and experiences. Teach, share what you’ve learned. Find your voice. A blog can help you to clarify your thoughts, it can be a cathartic experience. It can be an exercise in self-discovery. It can be your platform to pay-it-forward, to give back. But bottom line it can be your sales platform. Cross-pollinate on your blog, hyperlink all of your other social media sites. Be brutally consistent in posting, once or twice a week is the barest minimum to keep your readers coming back. Build your following, it takes time and effort. This is not an overnight proposition.
You must aggressively go after blog followers, just like you must aggressively market yourself and your products: the people most apt to buy my photographs for their homes and offices are my blog followers. Its taken almost five years to build my following, but after all that time I now have over 360 loyal subscribers representing over 125 different countries. And I continue to add new followers at a rate of 2 to 3 new subscribers per month. Your blog is the enticement, the free goodies, the value pack that keeps your customers coming back. It is your social interaction with your customers, the dialogue necessary to establish and maintain a personal relationship. Customers buy from people they know and trust. Your blog is what allows that to happen. People get to know you, and in knowing you they begin to trust you and value your creative output (whether it’s photographs, books or paintings). Your blog is the keystone of your business.
Website and Sales Venue. You must create a professional website and sales venue. Once you have created your website and sales venue it is pretty much a static (constant) site requiring only periodic updates and maintenance, whereas your blog is a dynamic (constantly changing) site with its frequent posts. Therefore, your website is not going to generate the daily compelling interest that your blog does. That’s why your blog is the hub, and all of your other sites are the spokes. The hub & spokes drive customers to your sales venue, the place where they can actually buy your creative product. That’s the whole point of this synergy building exercise, to convert your creative talent into money. My sales venue is incorporated into my website (logical, huh?) via a hyperlink on the toolbar. For illustrative purposes I will break them out separately here.
Indochine Photography at www.IndochinePhotography.me. You will notice, right off, that my website has a unique, personalized domain name (this costs money). I created my website through WordPress, and this can be done for free. I actually upgraded my site to a paid site to accommodate my unique domain name, and to take advantage of some other custom features not available on the free templates ($99 USD per year which included the domain name). Another low-cost option can be found on Square Space, and there are many other website vendors out there (so do your homework). I’ve talked about professional websites before, so I’m not going to rehash all of that here. Just remember to keep it simple and very user-friendly, with simple single-click navigation. Social media freaks don’t have the patience for complexity.
Store. My eCommerce store is located under the “Store” tab at Indochine Photography. Here is a quick link to My eCommerce Store. My store is sponsored through Fine Art America ($30 USD per year). This is a great sales venue for photographers and artists of every genre. It offers outstanding presentation, multiple product offerings and a full shopping cart function. It accepts all methods of payment, and with 14 fulfilment centers in 5 countries (USA, Canada, UK, Europe and Australia) they can ship anywhere in the world (usually within 3-days). If you’re an Indie-author your sales venue might be Amazon or Kindle Books; it’s a relatively simple task to hyperlink these venues into your website. Feel free to visit my website and eCommerce store to see for yourself how they work.
Summary: Your goal is to convert your creative talents into hard cash using social media. It will take time, effort and consistency. The ultimate goal here is to generate sales, not likes on your Facebook page(s). This is a synergy-driven, hub & spoke sales methodology. The hub is your blog, the spokes are email, a Facebook personal page, a Facebook business page, a professional website and a sales venue. The hub & spokes are all hyperlinked together, again this is called cross-pollination. The spokes are used to self-promote, and to solicit new prospective customers for your creative products. You want blog and website followers (subscribers) not likes on your Facebook page(s). Use your blog to develop personal relationships and a buying public. Let people get to know you. People buy from people they know and trust. Use your blog to promote yourself and your creative products, and to drive your captive audience to your website, and more importantly to your store.
Consistency is paramount. You must keep at it day in and day out. If you slack off you will fail. This is not an overnight, get-rich-quick scheme. In fact you will never get rich marketing through social media. However, it is another viable revenue stream that you may not be taking advantage of. Is it simple? Yes. Is it easy? Not so much. But although you may not become rich, you can make a few extra bucks by tapping into your own niche market. It’s certainly better than waiting around to be discovered, ’cause folks, that just ain’t gonna happen. It’s up to you, it’s your decision. Just don’t let fear stand in your way of realizing your dreams. Fear is ephemeral and quickly dissipates when faced head-on. What I’ve outlined here is mostly free and requires no (or very little) investment, just your time, energy and dedication. Good luck my friends.
If this post has been helpful, feel free to comment and share with with other Indie-artists or small business owners you may know (friends or acquaintances). Also I invite you to subscribe to Expat Journal using the toolbar in the righthand margin: it’s free, safe and secure with no obligation whatsoever.
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler