The Evil Twins of Your Creative Business

Maybe I’m overthinking this, but I’m pretty well convinced that feeling Overwhelmed and Overthinking every twist and turn of your business are two sides of the same coin. They’re like the nasty twins!

You see, when you Overthink every decision, before you know it Overwhelm stops by to see what’s going on. Soon the two of them are hand-in-hand, wreaking havoc with your creativity and progress. And it’s a proven fact* that when Overwhelm shows up, you shut down.

But part of our job description as creative business owners requires us to brainstorm ideas, tap into our endless well of curiosity, and consider every possible scenario for a problem or situation. And that’s fine—unless nothing ever happens, we freeze in the same spot we’ve been in for days…or weeks…or, oh yeah…years. That’s when you know the twins have moved in and settled down.

So, how do you politely show them the door? Well my dear, meet my fixer friend, Simplicity! When you feel the O-Twins pulling you down into their spiral, stop and simplify. Most situations, when brought down to the simplest terms, fall easily into a yes or no decision. And sure, we all make wrong moves from time to time, but most are small pivots, not business killers.

And here’s something I know for sure. When you’re trying to make your mark with your creativity, the world at large (and by world, I mean your market or audience) only wants to know three things:

  1.     Who you are.
  2.     What you do.
  3.     How do you contribute to this world (or your reason for doing that thing you do)?

And once you can articulate that, you don’t have to Overthink every decision. It either supports your criteria or it doesn’t. Simple, right? It’s a Yes. Or a No. Or a No, for now.

I’m not saying that once you feel more confident in your purpose and pathway, these two persistent devils won’t show up from time to time. That’s normal when you consider how our creative brains jump into overdrive from time to time. (Like maybe right before we fall asleep…). But stay focused on your path, and each time you’re pulled either direction, just ask yourself if it aligns with your bigger goals. (Wait, you do have a few big picture goals, right?) If they do, then plan and schedule for it.

And tell Overwhelm and Overthinking to take a hike and not return—unless they’re bringing the coffee.

What if…?

ronniespeaking

A few weeks ago I spoke to six (count ’em 6!) classes at a local high school. I was asked to speak to a variety of classes about how I use technology in my business because apparently just as we used to say, “why do I have to know how to use a slide rule?” they are saying “why do I have to know how a spread sheet works?”  Yeah, I know.

So I put together a talk about how even though I draw pictures and talk to people for a living my business if no different from say, Boeing or Target or Hostess Twinkies except they are super large and I am super tiny. We still have to deal with things like Sales, Marketing, Finance, Customer Service and Production (that’s the picture drawing part). Those big guys have entire departments to manage those things but I just have little old me (and little old Jim) to pay attention to each aspect of the business. I explained to them that in order to handle those things I use technology for keeping track of customers and money, to make the production side easier (you know, like Photoshop?) and word processing so that me can write pretty some day (stole that line from David Sedaris).

And for the most part they listened and nodded and asked me really good questions—except the students in the 7 am hour because—7 am. I like speaking at these kinds of events because I want the students to see a couple of things.

Like:

  1. You can indeed have a career essentially doing the same thing you did in third grade.
  2. You can do it no matter how damn old you are.

I also love these kids because it brings me back to that simpler/confusing/horrific place called high school and how it feels to be figuring out what your eventual place will be in this world.

But this is a long way to tell you a sweet story.

You know how whenever someone has a hugely horrible thing happen to them or a horrendous illness or they dangled over a cliff for two days holding on by their shoe lace and they say, “Well, if I can just help one person then it was all worth it”? That’s how I feel about appearing in a classroom at 7 o’clock in the morning. I know, I’m a giver.

I don’t know when the last time you were in a high school, but some of the ninth graders look like they still get a sucker at the doctor’s office while the seniors could be substitute wrestlers at the most recent WWF match.

As one of the classes got themselves organized, I chatted with 2 boys who showed me what they were working on in Photoshop. They told me all kinds of things that were completely over my head while I smiled sweetly and pretended that they weren’t 4,286 steps ahead of me in the Photoshop learning curve.

I proceeded to give my talk and then, as the class reorganized themselves for the next session, one of these boys quietly asked me a question. Now picture this. He’s one of those tiny ninth graders, holding an enormous stuffed to the gills backpack on his lap. He peered over the backpack and quietly said, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure”, I responded.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

“Ah, good question!” I answered. That would have been a good question to be asked in front of the whole classroom, but of course in the emotional quagmire which is high school, there was no way this kid could have asked his question out loud since he would have not been able to predict if his simple inquiry would  set off a chain reaction of humiliating interactions for years to come.

But I told him this: Every time you are starting a new project or get stuck on a particular part of a project ask yourself “What if…?”

What if this is bigger? What if this is smaller? What if it’s red? What if it’s black? What if I market to a new audience? What if I find a new client? What if I develop my own products? And if that doesn’t help you move forward, you can do what I told this kid to do.

Open a folder on your computer and name it “I don’t know where I’m going with this” (yes, I have one of these folders). And the next time you find yourself looking for ideas, look in that folder first and you may see those ideas in a different light. He smiled and thanked me and then hoisted that giant backpack on his back and off he went to his next class. I hope I helped him, both creatively and of course metaphorically (because I am deep that way).

Oddly, time and distance help us see the path more clearly sometimes. And that’s when you grow from that little kid peeking over your backpack to the professional wrestler you were meant to be.

 

Ronnie Walter is an artist, writer and art business coach.  She has mostly recovered from high school.

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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.

Surtex Tips from a Pro

©Ronnie Walter
©Ronnie Walter

So it’s just a few weeks away from a couple of art trade shows; namely SURTEX and the new and swanky Blueprint Show.

If you are exhibiting at either of them, you may officially start your freak-out now. As a veteran exhibitor of SURTEX, CHA, and Licensing Expo, I’ve got a few tips that I have learned over the years. And now I’m going to share them with you.

You’re welcome.

Here’s the dealio. You’ve already paid for the most expensive 10’ by 10’ space– not just in New York, but probably in the world. So you need to make it count. I did the math for you and for the average cost of your booth, adding travel expenses and materials cost divided by three and multiplied by 365 days it would cost you roughly $973,000 a year to live there. Of course a 10 X 10 space in New York is probably considered luxury digs.

That’s a lot of money.

So let’s go through a few things to make it all worth your while.

  • Don’t wimp out. You need to stay engaged– all day, every day of those three precious days you will be there. From the moment they say “Welcome to the Show” to the last announcement that says “We can’t wait to see you all next year!) you need to be bright, you need to be open and you need to stay engaged. I had one of my best clients come into my booth 10 minutes before the show closed one year! We made a connection and ended up doing a very nice deal over several years so don’t discount the end of the show. There are people still walking the aisles and they are still doing business. So stay alert. Stay engaged.
  • Never ask the following question: “So what are you looking for?” They are looking for art. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be there. Ask a more concise question like “Are you looking for seasonal or everyday?” or “Are you looking to fill a specific look in your line?” You will get a much better answer and they won’t be irritated that you can’t come up with something more original or meaningful.
  • Make sure that you feel good physically while you’re at the show. Here’s the trifecta of de-railers that are totally within your control. (picking up a nasty cold or other icky bugs are just bad luck).
    • Go easy on the alcohol. I know how tempting it is to go out and celebrate with your new and old friends, but as soon as someone says, “Oh, let’s just have one more” that will be your cue to say, “I gotta go—I’ll see you tomorrow!” The shows are stressful enough without adding a hangover to your meetings.
    • This is not the time to try out the best Mexican restaurant in New York. Or the hottest most exotic Thai dish you can find. I’m talking tummy issues, people! You know—gas? If you thought that 10 X 10 booth was small before…got it?
    • Get some rest! More than likely you are sleep deprived from all of your prep and the stress of worrying about whether or not your banners will stay on the wall. Call up ocean sounds on your phone, wear earplugs, mind your caffeine intake. No sleep makes for a very long show.
  • Try not to eat in the booth. If you must, eat something that you can swallow easily like yogurt or small bites of granola bars because you never know when someone’s coming. If you’re in the middle of a giant sloppy sandwich and the best client ever comes along, they may very well pass by because they figure, “Oh, the poor thing is hungry so I’ll just come back later” And trust me on this one—if they say they will come back, many things can happen where they cannot make it back—like their next meeting ran overtime, they forgot which aisle you were in or they just plain forgot. Sometimes I think there are gremlins in the Javits Center that abduct potential clients who say those three little words “I’ll come back”. If you need more to eat than yogurt or granola bars, find somebody to help cover your booth while you’re gone. Now– pretend like I’m your mother. No chewing gum in the booth!  It just looks sloppy! Use Tic Tacs or Altoids or some other breath freshening product you can swallow easily if you need to talk to someone. Just don’t choke. That’s typically bad for business.
  • Get in early! Coming in early to the show (even 15 minutes) can be just the ticket to feeling calm and relaxed when the doors open. Don’t be that artist racing in at 20 minutes past opening schlepping her bags and super hot coffee while eating an enormous bagel. Yes, things happen, but leave earlier than you think you should.
  • Make friends with your neighbors! I have made life-long friends at trade shows, and you know how everyone is always talking about finding “your tribe”? Well, here they are! Be helpful, be generous. Cover for each other for bathroom or snack breaks. Also, if you have a potential client in your booth and they are looking for something that you know is not your style or anything that you can accomplish for them, and you know someone that could? Make the introduction! The artist will be grateful and that client will know what kind of person you are.

Hey, you’ve got this, right?

And here’s a fun little announcement! I am going to be in New York meeting with some of my “coachees”, some trending shopping and sourcing for one of my clients. I am offering a 20 minute meeting with artists who would like to sit down with me! (I am limited to 9 people max) I will be available Monday May 16th  from 11 am to 2 pm. If you have a burning question, or would like a quick portfolio review, I am there for you. I will not be able to meet anyone on the show floor. If you want to get one of the sessions, just contact me here or email me at ronnie@ronniewalter.com and we’ll set up our meeting. It’s just a little thank you to this industry that has given so much to me and my career. UPDATE: My schedule is now full for the free spots, but I will be at the Monday morning meet-up on Level One from 8:15-10:30 am (with an awesome give-away!). Hope to meet you there there! (and of course, take advantage of the super offer below after the show!)

And… this is big, people!

I am also offering a free 20 minute “get to know each other” coaching phone call so you can see if we are a good fit or to help you clarify your needs if you’re ready to fire up your creative career. Have a look at the testimonials on the right side of this website to see the kinds of things people have said about me. If you’d like to set up that phone call, click here.

Wishing you all the best success at the show– whether you are with an agent, have a solo booth or are attending as part of the discovery phase of your creative career; I know one thing for sure–it’ll be a ride!

Buh-Bye Barriers!

©Ronnie Walter
©Ronnie Walter

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about barriers to success. I’ve talked to lots of artists over the years that put up roadblocks for themselves and for any number of reasons they actually block their own potential.

Bummer.

Often its things like;

“Well my family never encourages me.”

or

“I have no time.”

Or

“Did you see Game of Thrones last week?”

Sometimes these are real obstacles and you have to decide whether or not you can get around them. Or find some creative way to climb over.

Things like:

You have no talent. Yes, I said it. Maybe, just maybe you don’t have what it takes to do what you are dreaming about doing. But all is not lost—you can fine tune your dream, you know. More training, or a mentor or you can practice practice practice –or realize that this really isn’t your thing and you can try something else until you find the thing that you do have the talent for. Own it and move on. It’s OK.

Maybe you are basically lazy. Yes, I said that too. And I’m not talking depression or other real issues here. I mean when you convince yourself that watching 11 hours of TV over the weekend (while eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch right from the box) is “relaxation” and “staying abreast of popular culture so I understand trends”. And I haven’t met an artist yet that doesn’t procrastinate sometimes.  Maybe you’re mulling over options and just aren’t ready to make a commitment to where you’re going on an idea. Yeah, let’s go with that. But procrastination means you are at least moving forward in your head, if not physically. But if you do find yourself in that position–sheesh, at least have a sketchbook next to you!

You have an educational deficit. We hear tons of stories about artists that are self-taught; they had no idea they were capable of this kind of genius and then one day they picked up a paintbrush and poof! a lucrative art career was born! Well, sure, that can happen! But a really good drawing class, or a teacher/mentor who really understands color theory or composition or proven business principles can usually move you forward faster than you can on your own. Unless you are that latent genius unicorn we’ve all been looking for. Do the fundamental work.

You have minimal emotional support. A biggie for sure. If the people in your immediate world do not understand what you are doing or why you would ever want to pursue something creative, I hate to tell you this– but you need to find additional people. Your current people may not support it since it’s not part of their world view or they might not see your vision or commitment yet. Maybe they will come around later, but in the meantime (either online or in real life) find some people that grasp the creative process and all the weirdness that comes with it. You can move forward without your people’s full support and then one day you’ll overhear them tell the neighbor “you know she decided she was going to be an artist—and you should see the most amazing work she’s doing!”

You have an organizational problem. Become a list maker. As my Aunt Marie would say, “immediately, if not sooner.” The only way you are going to see progress is to see all the steps ahead of you—and checking them off as you go. If you are not a list-maker try it for two weeks and get back to me with your results. This is how you go from the “I really want to do this” whine to “Wow! Look how far I’ve come!” happy dance. Make a date with yourself once a week. Sunday night. Wednesday morning. Don’t care when. Write your list for the week. Reward yourself. Wine. Doughnuts. Private jet. Don’t care. And don’t worry about complicating it with long term goals, short term goals, visualizations and affirmations (unless you want to, I’m not the boss of you—I just act like it). Just a simple list of the things you can do this week to move you closer to success. Tiny baby steps.

Forward.

 

Catch me over on Instagram where I am currently working on #100 Days of Advice–as of today I am on Day 65–that’s a lot of fun and heartfelt advice!