The No Response Response

You’ve carefully chosen the potential clients that you have always dreamed of working with. You’ve developed a portfolio you are sure will resonate with one of them. It’s based on your research of their company, current trends in the market and how your work would dovetail with their product lines or editorial viewpoint. You’ve crafted a succinct, personalized email addressed to a specific person you want to reach, and after carefully proofreading it, you hit “send” with a flourish. Then you go make yourself another cup of coffee and pat yourself on the back. You’re feeling good. You love everything about what you do and can see all the possibilities as you build the kind of business you’ve been planning for. Sigh. And then some time passes (a week, two, maybe three…) and you realize you haven’t heard back from them yet. “Oh, well,” you think, “I’ll just send another quick email with a few more carefully selected visuals and a nice follow-up note. Let’s see if that helps them understand what I do.” But you don’t hear back after that either. So, you:
  1. Decide that you are a total hack and never deserved this career in the first place.
  2. Go back into the studio and draw more pictures while ignoring all marketing efforts since they apparently never work anyway.
  3. Increase the frequency and volume of your emails to this person because now it’s personal, darnit!
  4. Decide “well, it’s their loss,” and keep moving through your list of potential clients.
Now let’s sit on the other side of the desk for a moment and review some of the reasons WHY you haven’t heard back from your potential client. Things like:
  1. They are uber crazy busy and get so many requests from artists that they can’t possibly respond to each one. Responding to your submission lands somewhere below prepping for their next production meeting, dealing with their assistant who is crying in the lady’s room again, finding a container of product hung up with customs, picking up their sick kid or dealing with their crazy boss.
  2. They like your work but don’t have a place for it right now, and they hope they’ll remember you when the time comes, but right now they don’t have the time to craft an email telling you that (see #1).
  3. They are too nice to say, “Your work is not right for us and I don’t think it ever will be,” so they just hope you’ll get the hint if they don’t respond to you at all, and you will go away quietly.
  4. They just may be kind of rude and figure, “meh, it’s just another artist, there’s always another one.” (No! That can’t be true!)
  5. They have a policy that they only respond to art that they want to move forward on.
And since you have NO IDEA where they are on this spectrum you don’t really know how to proceed. But here are a few options you might consider:
  1. Keep following up on a regular basis, because you never know which piece you send might turn into “the one” (or when, so don’t attach emotion to the outcome of that follow-up activity or you will drive yourself nuts).
  2. Try one last time but this time with a non-confrontational but direct question. Something like: “Hi Joan, I’ve been sending you some artwork to consider and I haven’t heard back from you. I know how busy you are, but could you let me know if you think there’s any potential for my work at your company? I’m happy to keep sending if you do.” Joan can either look at the previous work you sent and get back to you with a “Thanks, but no, I don’t think this is right for us.” type note OR… a “You know, I like your work, but I don’t have the right project right now. But keep me posted on new work, okay?” Of course, old Joanie can ignore that email too, and now you can feel free move on—until of course, you have something new and different to send. Then send that.
  3. Keep them on your email list for announcements or invitations to shows etc. (if they have signed up, of course) but stop the personalized chase for now.
  4. Stew over it until you are so cranky that the only remedy is consuming salty snacks while whining to everyone around you how unfair the world is.
  5. Acknowledge that if the work you sent was right for them straight out of the chute, you would have heard from them already. Heavy sigh.
And here’s a little note to our beloved Art Directors (and Agents, actually): Would you consider establishing some quick email responses to artists who have reached out to you? The artists who are working so hard to present their work to you will be ever so grateful! And because I know how busy you are, I’ve written a few that you can feel free to cut and paste into your response emails: To the artists whose work is pretty cool, but not right for you right now: Dear Artist, Thanks so much for reaching out to me with your work. Although I think it’s great it doesn’t quite fit what we are looking for right now but do stay in touch in the future. To the artist whose work will never, ever be right for you: Dear Artist, Thanks so much for reaching out to me with your work. I don’t think your style is a good fit for our company, but I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. To the artist whose work is amazing, but your company would never consider that look or style: Dear Artist, Wow-great work! Although I personally love it, this look isn’t right for our particular customer; I am sure you will find a place for it in the market. My best to you and do stay in touch. And every artist’s personal favorite: Dear Artist, where should I send the contract and the big bag o’ money? So, there you have it. It’s either about you—or it’s not. They either like your work—or they don’t. It can be really frustrating and definitely dis-heartening to not get any response from your efforts. But after a period of time (and only you can be the judge of what that is—6 months? Two years? Before you turn 67?), and despite your best efforts, you have never gotten a response, you probably need to re-think some things. Either the list of people you want to work with, the market you are going after, or the art you are offering. And who know what will happen if you face that fact and make some adjustments rather than staying put at any cost? You may discover a company or a market out there that thinks you are the most awesome artist ever. I just hope they let you know.   PS. If you’re interested in a simple approach to finding clients, take my short Skillshare class called: Getting Clients—The 5 X 5 Plan to Get Focused, Reach More Clients & Stay Sane  

The Answer Scale

It’s that time of year again. No, not the time of year when you start realizing that yes indeed, there will be a summer this year. Or if you’re in Florida, they are reminding you that hurricane season is right around the corner. Not those seasons!

If you’re an artist in the business of trying to secure contracts to work with amazing people who want to license (or buy) your amazing designs to use on their amazing products, you know exactly what time of year it is—it’s showtime, baby!

Between Surtex, Blueprint and Licensing Expo, the next few weeks are all about last minute preparations, packing, picking cute outfits, getting your nails done*, a few sporadic mini-panic attacks and constant low-grade worry—plus all that follow-up on the other side. Or maybe you’re like me and are attending to stay connected to the industry, meet and mingle with all those delightful people and absorb a trend or two. (In other words, my only panic is cute outfit selection and hope for a three-day good hair run.)

So, whether you are sitting behind a table at any one of those shows, emailing your work to a decision maker (or conjuring up the nerve to) I have good news for you. The responses you will hear do not have to be soul-crushing or career ending or anything of the sort. In fact, study this handy “Answer Scale” guide so you can figure out exactly where you are in the conversation.

And do you see the worst thing they can say to you? It’s “no thank you”. That’s not so bad, is it? Or a variation is, “it’s not right for us”. That doesn’t mean its not right for them ever, or not right for anyone ever it’s just not right for these people right now.**

So let’s review. “No Thank You” is the worst, with the best being some variation on (cue the angel chorus), “we’re sending a contract”. And each answer in between should be considered a win.

If possible, try to relax a little bit and take a tiny minute to congratulate yourself on what it took you to get to this place. And if you are at any of the shows, soak up as much inspiration and artist comradery as you can and learn how you might get more “we’re sending a contract” responses than “no thank you’s”.

And I’ll see you soon!

*twice a year whether you need it or not.

**And if they happen to say anything worse than “no, thank you”, you probably don’t want to work with them anyway, now do you?

 

The Curse of Curiosity

I was at a party over the holidays and one of my neighbors asked me what I was doing these days. And since I have my elevator speech down, I said, “Besides my illustration work, I also coach artists to help them make more money with their art.”

“How do you coach artists? Isn’t that kind of hard?” he asked as he took a big scoop of my super fabulous Pimento Cheese.

I knew what he was thinking. You know, “all artists are crazy, how can you possibly work with them and anyway, aren’t artists supposed to starve?” Or maybe he was just thinking how awesome that pimento cheese is.  I know I was.

I explained that artists aren’t any different than the rest of the population (I left out that I find us far more interesting, but whatever…), but I told him that although what may look like crazy or off-beat to “the civilians” around us is what we are blessed/cursed with. Or what I would call “hyper curiosity”.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

Hey…what if I…?

But if I do that, will I be able to do that?

Hmmm. That’s interesting. I should research that.

But what about this other thing?

Is that right for me?

Ooh…did you see this thing? That looks so cool!

Wait, what was I working on?

One idea leads to the next, and the next and the next and pretty soon you’ve headed down another rabbit hole, changed your mind and you can’t even remember where all this started.

Not that it’s ever happened to me…

But here’s the thing—that’s how we figure out the good stuff. That’s how we’re built; to see the possibilities, to try new things, to make the old ideas new.

But we’re also built to feed our bodies and have shelter from the weather and the nastier creatures we share with this earth. We must figure out when to stop asking all the questions and start crafting our ideas to reflect what’s happening culturally, helping people express their emotions and figuring out what the heck the market wants—while staying true to our purpose and values.

Now, that’s the hard part.

Let’s call it a plan, shall we?

I am deep into planning for 2017.

It sounds like such a corporate-y thing to do, but I usually spend a few moments around this time to have a  look at my goals and objectives for the coming year. I evaluate the state of the market, what are the most expeditious paths to actually bringing in income and what passion projects to move forward.

But this year I am going a bit deeper. Getting help.  Having meaningful conversations. Working through a few processes that will help me negotiate where the real crossroads are between my time, talents and passions. It has been frustrating and illuminating at the same time, just like any process of gaining clarity and peace.

I also know that old saying about “the best laid plans of mice and men…”  when it comes to standing up and declaring, “This! This is exactly what I am going to be doing in the next twelve months!” Serendipity happens, new opportunities raise their hands in your direction and compelling ideas creep in and wrestle your previous ideas for space and time. I get that.

But the basics of what I do best, the cream that rises to the surface need to stand guard for the moments when I drift too far away or agree to things that are less “Well, maybe…” and more “Oh, Hell, yes!” .

I often use a “hub and spoke” graphic to illustrate concepts and you might want to use this one to help you see through the clutter and indecision as you plan the next chunk of time in your life. Feel free to [media-downloader media_id=”1119″ texts=”download it here”] and let me know if it was useful to you!

 

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And as I head into 2017 I know a few things; no matter what happens in the US Presidential election, it will be blessedly over and we can regroup and move on. (whew!) And I will have a pretty clear picture of how to move my creative interests forward, how to expand my business to include more outward focused activities and will continue to develop cool alliances with cool people while remaining fluid when it comes to opportunities that I don’t know about yet!

That’s doable, right?

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These Girls…

I was out of the studio for a whole week, last week. It was a long planned trip with my four best friends to celebrate a year of (pretty big) birthdays and our 46 years of friendship. I packed clothes, gifts, and a ton of art supplies–and big plans to use them.  We envisioned lazy afternoons on the deck overlooking Lake Michigan, trolling around charming towns, enjoying good food and the occasional glass of wine. We did all of those things—and so much more.

I am grateful and blessed to have these four strong, unique and hilarious women in my life. Over the years we’ve witnessed marriages, sparkly sunsets on Sanibel Island, great hilarity in Texas, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island; we’ve celebrated new life and held each others hands through the complicated, the sad and the sometimes wretched heartache that is all part of living on this earth.

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We rented a house big enough to hold us AND our giant personalities and embarked on a week that we wanted to be rejuvenating, relaxing and restorative. We split up the cooking duties, Claire led us through a communal art project, and we celebrated each birthday on a separate day of the week—or as we said, “Hey! It’s my fake birthday”! Debi personalized journals for each of us with her popular font, Cantoni, and in them we wrote letters to the “birthday girl” with funny memories, things we admire and love about that person and encouragement to follow their path to peace and fulfillment. Then we would read the letters out loud at our nightly camp fires. Yes, it was blissful. Yes, I am so grateful for each of them. And yes, we are planning our next trip.

Oh, in case you were wondering—of COURSE we got on each others nerves now and then! I mean, really; five women, forty six years, one house—and did I mention the big personalities? But here’s the thing. We get it. A long time ago we accepted that if we expect the others to be patient with our weirdo tendencies then we need to show a little tolerance to theirs. So we’re a little more tender, a little less judgmental and can usually craft a response that either cracks everybody up or figure it’s a good time head out and clean up the kitchen.

I loved watching my friends enjoying a quiet swim by themselves, or seeing two heads bowed together as they talked about something profound or maybe something silly. But the best times were when we were all together—breaking bread (and brownies) around the dining room table looking like the world’s oddest quintuplets, sprawled on couches in the living room, squished into the car heading out on an adventure or crisscrossing the kitchen as one chopped, one cooked, one cleaned up and a few either entertained or just got in the way.

You may be thinking, “Yeah, yeah Ronnie, that’s a sweet little story—but how does it apply to me?”

Well, besides your family (who come with their own joys and irritations) the friends who’ve known you the longest are probably the ones who care the most about you. So gather your friends. Call them up. Reach out. Make it work.

And remember this quote from Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home”.

Well, I couldn’t pick better people to walk this journey next to me.

 

PS. The art supplies stayed in the suitcase.

 

When Bad Things Happen to Good Artists

RonnieInCup-WEBIf you know anything about me, you know I’m pretty positive. I try to be upbeat in the worst of situations, in fact sometimes I feel like I am cursed with a sunny disposition.

And I know how much we want to put a rainbow and Skittles® face on how super uber fabulous drawing pictures for a living is. And it is.

Mostly.

I have been in the illustration biz almost longer than I have not been. I have had products that stayed on the market for years generating good royalties in some of the biggest retailers in America. At any given moment I have projects cooking, my work is under consideration somewhere and the royalty fairies are working their magic.

I have managed to not have a ”job job” despite the cultural bias that says that artists can’t be successful and we’re all a bunch of flakes. OK, maybe the second part of that can be true in some cases, but I’m not naming names. Although I could.

And of course, getting paid via royalties can involve wild swings from “I’m rich!” to “I’m broke!” over the course of any given year (or week). And truth be told, I have managed to make enough money to not worry every night about whether or not I will be eating cat food when I’m 82. I mean, I even went on vacation that one time!

So far, so good.

But what do you do if, for instance, in spite of your best efforts you never ever get that client or project you want? Or things were going along swimmingly, and then all of a sudden pulling together your next mortgage payment, or student loan–or grocery money—becomes tricky at best, or maybe scary beyond what you have previously known in your life?

What if a project that showed so much promise and consumed months of your work and talent tanked at retail? Like really tanked—even though all kinds of pretty smart, experienced people gave it the green light every step of the way?

What if you were having conversations with someone about a juicy awesome project and you shared your whole bloody hopes, dreams and unique plans with them, and five minutes after they passed on it (with you) you see that they have implemented your hopes, dreams and unique plans with someone else?

Or (deep breaths, kids) you found yourself in the middle of a (gulp) really expensive lawsuit?

Well, there! How’s that sunny demeanor working out now? And just so you know, over the course of my career every one of those things has happened to me at least once. Thankfully, not all in one year but spread over lots of years of drawing pictures for a living.

Ask anyone who has a business doing anything. The guy who owns the tire store. Your hair stylist. Heck, even your gynecologist (because who doesn’t like a bit of small talk during your exam?). They will tell you this: business is fraught with risk. And rewards. That’s why many of the wealthiest people in the world are business owners. They have weathered any number of hardships and slip-ups and bone-headed moves and still managed to stay focused on the big picture. Of course, many businesses do not make it. That does not make them horrible people or losers or any kind of “less-than”. But most of them will tell you, it’s not how many times you fall; it’s how many times you get up that makes the difference. And knowing when enough is truly enough helps too.

Each time I was tripped up I chose to get up. To brush myself off. To absorb the hurt and maybe the anger. To make it right when I could. And forgive myself when I couldn’t.

And then I go find something funny or surround myself with the people who love me and still think I am adorable and hilarious.

And then I draw a picture. Or maybe two or three.

Passion, Purpose…Paycheck?

2Coffees-WEBDon’t we wish they were one and the same? Because that’s the dream, right?

Picture this: Each morning you waltz down the cobblestone path to your vine covered studio, clad in a breezy white linen tunic with soft leather (vegan leather if you like) shoes in teal or raspberry or sage that appear to have been crafted by a hobbit to your exact specifications, but on you they look somehow elegant and effortless.

You slowly sip your cold-brewed coffee as you prepare to start your day. You’ll spend the next 2 or 3 hours on a painting, or that screenplay you’re writing; only interrupted by the chirps of the chubby bluebirds on the windowsill as they serenade the Shetland pony in the field across from your organic garden.

Your phone rings and it’s your editor or your agent or George Clooney hoping you can join them for a quick bite–on their yacht–to discuss how much they love your current paintings/screenplay/novel/in-depth exposé of what is really in tofu.

Oh, and then you wake up. And realize that although what you really want to be doing is paint/write/share your brilliance, reality hits. You know what I’m talking about; those pesky things like paying the electric bill, raising the children (apparently they don’t raise themselves) and going out for the occasional meal you don’t have to cobble together yourself.

Those things.

So is it unrealistic to expect your passion to hand you a paycheck now and then? Maybe. But when you get right down to it—maybe your passion might take the form of writing or painting but it’s really about what your purpose is in doing that thing. Do you want to help people say things that are hard to say? Do you want to bring joy and happiness to others? Do you want to stir things up, rattle a few cages?

Because maybe if you switch “your what” to focus on “your why” you can start to imagine the value—and if it resonates with some, it might just resonate with others.

Then you can spend the afternoon strolling through the woods to find that hobbit cobbler–I hear he now offers those shoes in celadon.