In the era of 2014, the idea of being a full-time artist feels virtually impossible. We all live and breathe artistry, but relying on it as our sole income is terrifying. When finally making that leap to full-time creative, we often neglect the absolute best marketing material we have to offer: ourselves.
I’m a photographer, and I often bounce from city to city without any connections to people, places or things in between. I used to hide who I was behind the camera, showing only my work as a representation of myself. Business wasn’t bad, but certainly, it could have been better. It wasn’t until I molded my business with myself that I realized this was the key to grasping new clients, making new connections, and building a successful business.
Two years ago, had you gone to my Facebook business page, you’d see an overly cordial, exceedingly polite, and inordinately fake version of Zach Sutton. I assumed the secret to business was to charm people with kindness, so that they’d want to work with you on the sole purpose that you’re nice. Believe it or not, that’s usually not the case.
I discovered that my personality was my most powerful marketing tool.
I eventually began showing more sides to who I was. I began publishing work that wasn’t for gallery showings or clients, but were for my own enjoyments. I began showing people the side of me that isn’t often shown in businesses; I began showing me. While I was still polite, I wasn’t apologetic for who I was and my thoughts as an unique human being. I was honest, I was assertive, and at times, I was controversial—and business was growing.
People began following my ramblings and my discoveries because they had built a bond with me. They began caring about what I had to say, and began sharing their own stories with me simply because they trusted me beyond my work. Friends turned into clients, and clients turned into friends. People began hiring me less for my work, and more for who I was, and because they wanted to see me succeed. I discovered that my personality was my most powerful marketing tool.
And those who weren’t tuned into my personal stories and ramblings still hired me for my work. By interjecting my personality into my business, I didn’t lose any business from casual clients, but I gained so much business from those who were looking for more. I’m quickly building a successful business in the arts, and all I’m doing is stopping censorship of myself.
My misconception (often shared by others) was that people wanted a generic business. That they wanted to keep their heads down, and to just go with the currents of life. The reality is that people want some insight on who you are. They want someone they can relate to with life’s challenges, and want someone they can bond with in this overly internet world.
Being a small business owner is especially difficult. You’re often either working long hours and coasting through life exhausted, or you’re fighting tooth and nail to get the next client before your electricity is about to be shut off. But business can be something other than just business. Local businesses have an advantage on relatability. People love local coffee shops, local boutiques and local restaurants for their passion and commitment to the community. They love local businesses because there is a human element to them—they’re more than just another franchise placed in the neighborhood that is analytically proven to succeed. Building a local business without that expressed passion and human element is a surefire way to failure.
Your art is an insight to your life, to your hardships, to your moments of tear-filled laughter. To have others connect to your art, you must present your life in a very honest and open way. Make your life your art, and your art your life.
Image by Zach Sutton.