By: Ned Moulton
This won’t be a formal document laying out principles you can plug into your situation and grow your business exponentionally overnight. Instead I’d like to make a few suggestions about life and business that might be even more important than clever marketing methods. Here’s a question you need to answer for yourself: Are you doing what you love to do? If you are not, it will be almost impossible to succeed at what you are doing. If you love what you are doing you would do it for free. And one of the tests you can give yourself is to question whether you would be doing whatever it is you are currently doing if you weren’t being paid to do it. I happen to be an artist.
I was five years old when I started drawing. The only thing I ever wanted to do was be an artist. I painted and drew pictures for free until I was thirty five years old. Only then did I discover a way to sell my work and make a living at what I loved. I’m not suggesting you have to give away your skills and services for thirty years before you are able to profit from them, but if you have skills and abilities that people want or need, and you give them away for awhile, at some point people will be willing to pay you for them. At that point you can start profiting from what you’d do for free anyhow, and start having fun while doing it.
When I started trying to sell my art there were no “tent people.’’ Artists who went out to street festivals, like the shows the Taubman puts on here in Roanoke, or the festival in the park, had to make their own displays and roofs or cover-ups. Ex-carpenters made displays out of wood. Ex-plumbers crafted their displays from pipes. Every display was unique. As the festivals gained popularity and people began buying more and more art from these outdoor entrepreneurs – a whole industry sprung up around them. Chicken wire display racks morphed into professional displays, and tarps thrown over flimsy displays became the nearly universal white tent. As the artist’s booths became more uniform, the works inside those booths became more differentiated. Artists and craftspeople who sold their works in these early shows and festivals found they could migrate away from mundane work they found boring and unsatisfying into a field where they could earn a living doing what they loved—creating art. And there is some kind of magic attached to doing what you love. It looks like play to outsiders, not work. In my own experience, I tried to create an atmosphere of fun in my display booth. I tried to have as much fun—and give those potential customers I met as good a time as I could. There was never a shortage of gags around my display.
At one show, I discovered that by sqeezing an empty plastic water bottle I could produce a sound very much like popcorn popping. I would hide behind my booth and start squeezing the pop-pop-pop sounds out of the empty bottle, then peek through an opening in the display walls and ask. “Anybody want some popcorn?” I would always get a few takers. Then I would say. “Butter?” Mor takers. Finally, I would walk into the booth squeezing the bottle and find a booth full of surprised and smiling potential buyers. Not a bad situation to be in if you want to make sales.