Sunday, December 7, 2008

Please Sir, Can I Have Some More?

How many of you freelancers and creative product makers feel like you’re asking this question a bit too often when it comes to getting the fees or prices you know you need in order to survive?

It’s true to say that around the world the ‘starving artist’ is a well known figure – it is way too often assumed that the love of art, craft or design alone is sufficient to sustain those of us with a creative bent, and it is way too often so utterly untrue.

The image of craft as an activity suited for the less intellectually functionable of us is also a notion that humbugs our ability to price our highly trained skills up there with the electricians, auto-mechanics and plumbers of the world too. Wait, though, something doesn’t sound right about that statement – how come I did a degree to become a contemporary craftsperson and my well-paid plumber needs me to read the instructions on the can of sealant he bought…ok, I’m taking a bit of liberty here, I know many of these skilled workers are true experts too, but by no means all, and yet they can rake in the dollars, so forgive my liberty to illustrate my point.

There are a lot of us who may have done a degree or who may have worked through years of self-teaching and own experimentations and developments to hone our skills and abilities and to unearth our inner creative genius and turn it into physical beauty. We are highly skilled, and our products are much admired, when we’re consultants, we’re usually in short supply and our skill is much needed, but yet we just don’t fit in with the theory of supply and demand: our attempts to earn ‘good’ money seem to get stuck in the mud more often than not.

So what’s the secret for those that can charge whatever they wish and get the check paid without the blink of an eyelid? There are a number of industries where necessity calls the price – electricians, auto-mechanics, plumbers are amongst them. We're just not so easily deemed a necessity - What we need to figure is why some of us creative people make it and it almost seems like their products are necessities the way people flock to buy them - and what we can do to better our industry’s status and our own individual ability to earn.

Well, we can list off a number of things that are often identified as reasons why a body succeeds:

Knowing the right people – good social standing
Having a leg-up in life - family money or capital, child of a celeb
Celebrity status – child of a celeb, famous in another genre – music, film, tv
Used Car Salesmanship – able to sell anything to anyone at any price

But the truth is, you could have any of these attributes and still not succeed. But there’s a lot we can do to raise our success rate – not necessarily easy or quick things, and people often think these things are beyond their abilities, but I think many people can do these things for themselves.

Take a moment to think of what you have managed to teach yourself, the skills you have honed - if we really give credit to ourselves for our ability to achieve, we can see that these things are not so unachievable as we may have first thought.

Public Image

It think one of the biggest issues is how people see us and our products – do they identify us as skilled, intelligent, stylish people or as unskilled, underachievers? I think there are a few quite possible things we can do to improve our image.

In order to change what the public feels about anything you need to re-educate them. This is not a short term thing and in the Caribbean, and I believe elsewhere, often the people in the media, development agencies and other bodies who comment on, propose for us and generally affect our image, themselves don’t see us the way we need to be seen. So we must take on this responsibility for ourselves and apply our creative abilities to the task.

The Tools
Photos and well-written promo: You need to record your work, promote your work and do it well. This is what’s needed and here are a few tips to help you get these tools.

Quality is Paramount
Don’t allow poor quality images and poor quality writing to represent your high quality products – the two don’t match. Invest time in learning how to photograph simply and in writing about your work effectively.
A Picture speaks a thousand words
There are tutorials all over the web for taking photos, but otherwise, here are a few tips:

VISION: Use your observational powers – look, really look, at quality magazine photos – notice what they look like, their backgrounds, etc, see what you can imitate with items around your own home or studio.

CLARITY: Avoid cluttered images like lots of leaves and flowers in the background – you want people to see your products clearly and in style – so props can be used – for instance a big river rock to drape a necklace, a large leaf under a natural soap…

SETTING: You can get a good white background for your objects by using a large sheet of paper or Bristol board or card – try not to wrinkle it. Find a spot outside your home or in a well lit area – but not in direct sunlight – somewhere where the sun cannot cast shadows. Tape the top edge of your card to the wall, and allow the card to bend smoothly onto the floor or table. Place your object on the card as far from the back as possible. If you need to stick your product down, use sticky tack or tiny rolls of tape hidden under the object. Take your photo without a flash (the flash will cast a shadow). Now you will have a clearly lit photo of your product without ugly sharp, dark shadows.
Porcelain Vessel Pendant - Finola Prescott

A few Well Spoken Words

RESEARCH: Read the promotional blurb for other products that sell well and are similar or related to yours and make notes.

ANALYSE: Take a moment to think about what are your product’s best features, what makes it better, different, fun, safer, fashionable, useful, sturdy, etc. Ask a friend or two what they think.

PUT IT TOGETHER: Now try to piece these things together – use promotional slogans you found and substitute your own words. Use your own catch-phrases where you can. Try to write both product promotion and an ‘Artist’s Statement’ or mini-story about you and your products.

: Ask friends or persons you know who are good at writing (English teacher perhaps) to read it for proofread it for grammar and also for impact – does it sell your product to them. Give them enough time to do this – don’t demand instant replies, let them fit it into their schedule. Be happy if they criticize and point out what’s wrong – they’re giving you free assistance.

KEEP IT REAL: Important – it is just as bad to over blow you or your product’s abilities – you can end up appearing to be a fraud, so aim for truthful praise – be confident, be proud and be real.

On this topic – I often say that in the Caribbean, we measure with a short yardstick – what I mean is that we don’t know enough about what the standards are outside our island and our region – so you need to get educated yourself – make sure you know what other places produce – the quality, the prices, the styles. Visit a trade library in your Ministry of Commerce, or local business organization, or your local public library and look, look and look some more.

Don’t hide your light under a bushel.

GET IN PRINT: Now, get the word out there – submit a little article with a few good pictures to local newspapers, suitable magazines. This works especially well if you have just launched a new product, but even if you haven’t – you’re revealing a well kept secret - people want to know.
SHOW YOUR KNOWLEDGE: If you can share information on how to use it, the benefits –whether safety, health or style – that helps immensely in building up your reputation as an expert – someone who knows their stuff and that’s important – it builds your image as a well qualified practitioner.

SALES PROMO: Provide the shops you sell in with ‘Point of Sales’ props – a small, clear, sturdy sign with your promo info on it, proper product labels, stands for displaying your work if appropriate or needed (talk to the shop owner).

: You can provide them also with copies of clippings of magazines and newspapers where you’ve been featured, if you’ve won awards, photocopy them, put in good quality pictures of special products you’ve made or can make to order – put it all in a nice strong folder with your name on the front so the people selling your products know who you really are and what’s behind the item they sell.

Rounding Up
The overall aim is to build up a good image of yourself and your industry so that your value and your products’ value increases.

You can’t wait for someone else to do it for you and even if others benefit from your overall promotion of the industry, you will benefit, so don’t be afraid to share your efforts.

Believe in your own worth – be real about it, be sure about it, be proud about it and don’t keep all that to yourself, feed your potential customers with all the things they need to understand you and your products and to want them more and more at the prices that represent your true value.


  1. So important points! So often left out of sight. I shall take a visit to this page daily.

  2. Thank you - and thank you for making me re-read my own advice!

    I have some work do to on my own promo and am now reminded (sheepish grin)