Guest post from Alli Farkas

Note from Nanette: I approached Alli asking if she’d like to guest post on this blog because I was impressed with her story, have known a lot of artists who struggle and found her pricing for customized equine portraits to be very reasonable. Her services seem appealing to the novices the Horse Sense and Cents™ book series was designed to help. She surprised me with what she provided, but I think everyone can benefit from the personal experience marketing tutorial she provides below. Please comment with your thoughts on this post (and let me know what you’d like to see in future guest posts) and visit Alli’s website at http://www.allifarkas.com for more information on her portrait services.

From the voice of Alli Farkas:

My two passions, art and horses, combine nicely. There must be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of equine artists out there. One of the things I realized early on is that the field is incredibly crowded.

It was at that point that I consulted the now rather quaint tomes in the “Guerrilla Marketing” series by Jay Conrad Levinson. These books first started appearing in 1984 and were geared toward folks starting their own small businesses, whether at home or a stand-alone location. Many of the principles extolled over 25 years ago still apply in the age of the internet—they just need to be adapted to modern technology.

A few of these ideas have helped me weather the trials of getting started as a portrait artist. For example: welcoming, friendly small-talk puts people at ease and shows them that you are interested in them as people and not just potential buyers. People who are buying something that is custom-created for them want to be comfortable with the person they will be partnering with.

Next, to survive in a crowded market you must make yourself stand out. One of the best ways to do this is by offering exceptional customer service. I can help a sale by being clear about what I offer, what the terms are, and what lengths I will go to in order to ensure customer satisfaction. I also make an effort to stand out by keeping my prices affordable.

Promotion and advertising are also extremely important. I try to pick my ad venues judiciously; while I know I have to spend money, I don’t want to spend huge amounts in unproductive areas. The current recession may make a lot of people think they should pull back on their advertising because nobody’s buying anything anyway. But this is a tactic that will cost you more in the long run. Advertise now, and when the economy starts to come around and people have a little extra money again, they will be more likely to remember your name or business if they’ve been exposed to it all along.

The internet has taken the place of the previously all-important mailing lists. I had been reading, especially in Art Calendar Magazine, about the myriad ways to put the internet to work for artists—but I had been sluggish about mustering the effort to acquire the skills to do so. I lost some valuable time by delaying, but once I got the information out there people started to find me. I can now tell hundreds of people I have a gallery show coming up with just a few clicks of the mouse. No postcards, no postage, no meticulous maintenance of mailing lists. Customers can see dozens of my paintings without visiting my studio. Everyone can read in excruciating detail every high and low point of my horse portrait adventure on my blog. Ah…heaven!

I want to reassure you that when you take on a new challenge, you are going to make tons of mistakes. The only real mistake is not fixing them so you can move on to your new improved method. Some of my early missteps included putting the sample portraits in the back of the booth (behind me) instead of on

My first booth at Lamplight
My first booth at Lamplight

the sides at the front. Nobody wanted to walk back there for a closer look! Putting only one large business sign in the back was also a mistake. Another sign in the walkway out front now lets people know about my business way before they even get to the booth.

A later version of my booth improved to be more customer friendly
A later version of my booth improved to be more customer friendly

Whatever your passion is—horse-related or not—don’t be afraid to get out there and make your mistakes. Keep your eyes and your mind open, and solutions and new ideas will come to you. According to Guerrilla Marketing, “overnight” success for a small or home-based business would be about a year. A “normal” success is probably more like three years. So I still have a little over two more years to prove myself before I start to make any heavy decisions about the worthiness of my endeavor. In the meantime, I’m treating it as if I just started yesterday!