If you want to be an entrepreneurial artist, you can learn a lot from a seventh grader I met this a couple of weekends ago. I know I did.
Meet Johnny D.
Last weekend, Johnny D was sitting behind a table in the midst of the Italian Market Festival in South Philadelphia offering to draw portraits. $3 for a black and white drawing, and $5 for color.
Here is what I learned from Johnny
1. You have got to put yourself out there.
One way or another, you are going to have to put yourself out there if you want to get paid for your art. That can be scary. But there sat Johnny D offering his portraits in exchange for money. If Johnny can do it, so can you. Get the support you need and do it.
2. Exploit opportunities.
Johnny D’s mom owns a storefront on 9th street, smack dab in the middle of where the Italian Market Festival takes place. Johnny took advantage of the opportunity to use that prime real estate in front of the storefront during a time of maximal foot traffic. Your mom may not own a storefront in a bustling foot corridor, but you have your own unique opportunities, if you only are smart enough recognize them and take advantage of them.
3. Remember the the 4 Ps
Remember the 4 Ps? Johnny D does.
Johnny offered his own twist on a classic product: the street portrait. Instead of doing the large, photorealistic portraits typical in street artist portraits, Johnny offered miniature portraits. Instead of graphite or charcoal, Johnny used fine point sharpies. Instead of paper, he used cardstock. Instead of photorealism, he offered an impressionistic portrait, but one still grounded in close observation.
With a street portrait, the final picture is only half the product. The other half is the experience of sitting for the portrait. Johnny offered a differentiated product by virtue of his age. How often do you get to have your portrait drawn by a young person? It was like a time machine. I felt like I was in junior high school having that one “good drawer” drawing my picture. That, on top of his distinctive style, sold me.
It does not matter how good your product is if nobody knows about it. Johnny effectively generated awareness of his product. He set up in a high foot traffic area where people were looking to have fun and spend money. He clearly communicated his offerings with a big stylish handcrafted sign that said “Drawings By Johnny D.” He displayed sample portraits to show people his portraits.
Johnny posted his portrait prices: 3 dollars for black and white, 5 dollars for color. That kind of pricing seemed sensible to me. At the festival people were paying from 3-10 dollars for food and beverage items. So Johnny’s pricing is well within the range of his potential customers’ expectations for festival expenditures. And it is high enough so that if he does decent volume—say 20 portraits, he would generate 60 to 100 dollars. That’s a lot of manga novels, cheesesteaks, or whatever it is that 7th grade boys like to spend their money on these days.
Update: Johnny cleared over $500 in 2 days!
The artist placed himself and his product in the center of a swarm of potential customers so that they would have easy access to information about his product and to the product itself.
My Customer Experience?
When I walked by Johnny I saw his sign, I came closer and looked at his samples, and then I checked for prices. When I looked at his samples, I thought, “Hmmm, not bad.” I kept heading up the street, but as I strolled Johnny and his pictures kept popping into my mind. So I decided to go back. I decided on a black and white portrait.
As he sat and drew me, I asked if I could take some photos for this website, and he said he was fine with that. I loved the way he went back and forth between looking at me and feverishly developing his drawing. Halfway through, I told him I wanted to upgrade it to color. He obliged, handed me the portrait, and I loved it. I handed him a five and walked away happy. The picture is now on my fridge.
Success Breeds Success:
As Johnny drew me, people stopped to watch the performance, which led to him booking two more customers. So get the ball rolling and it will keep rolling faster.
Suggestions for Johnny (and maybe you too)
I think he did a great job with many aspects of marketing and sales for this portrait gig, but there is always room to improve. Here are a couple of suggestions for next time.
1) Offer a whole solution. For example, some people might want a framed picture. So Johnny could frame pictures on the spot for an additional fee.
2) Offer three price points. That way you can upsell people who want a premium product or downsell to someone who is on a tight budget.
3) Collect customer email addresses. Successful business people cultivate relationships. It is much easier to generate repeat business than to keep finding new customers. If you collect email addresses, you can build those relationships via an occasional email newsletter. If someone sat for a portrait, that person is already a fan of your work. It makes all kinds of sense to cultivate your fan (AKA potential regular customer) base. This is gold. It is much harder to acquire new customers than to keep repeat ones.
4) Make a website. A website is a useful resource for building one’s brand. There are many ways to use the site—show samples, give updates on future appearances, give contact information for people who want commissions, give people a place to sign up for your email newsletter, etc. Before creating a website, talk it over with your parents. A website is a public face, and there are safety and privacy concerns with putting your information out in cyberspace.
Now Johnny may not want to implement my suggestions. There are a lot of other things to do in 7th grade beside focusing on maximizing marketing and sales for his art business. I know that Johnny has a lot of other talents and interests. But let me say this. I was very impressed by what I saw last weekend. If he applies the same amount of guts, effort, smarts, and talent, in whatever he chooses to do, I predict a bright future for him. I just wish I was where he was at when I was in 7th grade. At least I can be inspired by him right now.
Thanks to Johnny D’s mother, Molly for giving me permission to use her son as the inspiration for this blog post. And thanks of course, to the artist and entrepreneur Johnny D.