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Art Plus Fear Equals Procrastination

I’ve been hearing many artists talk about art and fear lately. It’s amazing how so many of them don’t think they are true artists and even consider themselves an impostor or fraud of sorts and live with the fear that someone might “discover” who they truly are. Or something like that. I guess it’s all part of the tribulations that arise from choosing the creative process as a vital form of expression, as opposed to settling for a more profitable or conventional way of making a living. Doubts. Fear. Doubts about yourself. Doubts about what you do. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. The need for approval… And so on.

Yes, I know that this is not limited to artists. I’ve seen it in many other fields, too. It’s just human nature. Yet I believe that it is an aspect that, when left unattended, can wreak havoc in your creative endeavors, because it hides in the subconscious mind and manifests in sneaky hidden ways that may end up paralyzing your creative process.

Procrastination gets in the way of everyone, not just artists, of course, but it seems to me that because an artistic venture involves much pleasure and can be highly therapeutic, somewhere in the heart of our ego it is considered a game, or a distraction, or even a waste of time in the world of “real responsibilities.” So it gets easily pushed aside by any amount of excuses.

Anything can be procrastination and procrastination can take pretty much any form, as John Kelly shows in this creative and inspiring video:

So next time you find yourself procrastinating, grab your favorite tools and create something about it instead of letting it paralyze you and capitulating to the hidden tricks of your mind. Yes, maybe the fear of rejection will never disappear, or maybe the doubts will always be there. Who knows. But in the meantime, let’s do something fun and creative with them!

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Why Am I a Jewelry Designer?

Earth Ascension Earrings by Sacred Jewelry & Yoga DesignsHave you ever wondered why you are doing what you do, or why you chose a specific profession, or hobby, or activity to devote your time to? I am sure you have, especially during times when you actually had to ask yourself if what you were doing was what you really wanted to be doing… I always double check with myself if I still enjoy what I am doing, if it still means the same to me, and if I want to keep doing it.

A couple days ago I had a revelation of sorts in relation to this issue. No, I wasn’t actually asking myself if being a jewelry designer was what I wanted to do. I was having a conversation with my husband about something totally unrelated (or so I thought) and it just dawned on me. Looking at my journey, I see that life has shaped me into who I am now by pounding my ego, filing it away, while nurturing and polishing the best in me. And this is exactly where I am at in my life right now: pounding, shaping, filing, and polishing metals!

I find it fascinating how we artists are always creating and re-creating ourselves in our chosen field, whether it’s on a canvas or a fabric or, as in my case, a lump of metal clay. To me, this is exciting, because it gives me a sense of purpose and it makes me feel like I am in the right place at the right time. And that’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it?

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Ethical Marketing for the Creative Type, Part III

Generally speaking, marketing is all about creating your brand, that is, a unique identity that people will recognize and remember. It is what sets you apart from your neighbors and competitors. However, if you are a creative type, it is more of an extension of your personality in a lot of ways. An artist or fine crafter is not really looking for a brand per se, but more likely for a personal and unique style or expression that sets him or her apart from other artists and crafters. That unique style is your brand.

Just like success in marketing a manufactured product requires a commitment to your brand and to the strategy that goes with it, success in marketing your creative endeavors also requires commitment. And that is a commitment to your own expression and style. No sense in trying to copy or create what you think would sell more. Of course you can get inspired by what others are doing and selling, but is what you see really what you would like to be doing as well? In other words, you need a creative commitment to your true expression, regardless of where it takes you and how.

Of course, at this point you have to ask yourself whether you want to do this because you have to, because it is who you are, or if you just want to make money with the skills you have acquired, even if you have to compromise or give up what you really love. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you couldn’t do what you love and make a living (of course you can!), or that you always have to choose between what you love and what sells. No, life is not really that clear cut, and you can always find a happy medium that suits your needs (maybe having a more commercial line along with your one-of-a-kind artwork or designs?). But I’ve found that it is crucial to have clarity of purpose and a strong commitment to what you do, because there will be times when things won’t go your way and you may find yourself choosing between sticking to your chosen art, even it if means tightening your belt for a while, and running for that regular job down the street, feeling defeated…

As a creative type, commitment does not just mean that you stick to your own style, but that you absolutely believe in yourself and what you do. This brings me back to my first post on this series (Ethical Marketing for the Creative Type), where I wrote about focusing on what you love. If you don’t have a commitment to what you do, you won’t be able to tap into your own expression or style, since you won’t put enough time and energy to find it, and if you cannot find your own style you won’t be able to commit to what you do. It all goes hand in hand, and that is why these posts are about “ethical marketing” and not just marketing. Being ethical, in this case, not only refers to using honest marketing techniques. It also implies being true to yourself and to your unique form of expression. It is about being honest with yourself and believing in what you do. Now, how does this relate to marketing? Well, here’s some more pointers for you as a continuation of my previous posts of this series:

3. View Your Web Design as an Extension of Yourself

First impressions are key, whether we are talking about personal relationships or marketing. And what is marketing, if not establishing a somewhat personal relationship with potential customers? You don’t just want to wow people visiting your home or intro page, you want to make them stay and explore it, and even come back to it. In my experience, people need to see your ad and hear about you many, many times before they actually act upon it. The same applies to your site. I’ve seen some very cool web design with fancy flash intros and images sliding and changing for contact info, services, and so on, that have no real content. It’s all visual. I may think that they’re super cool because I love that kind of stuff as an artist and web designer, but if there is no content to explore, then your visitors will be out of there in less than 20 seconds. And worse, the search engines won’t ever know you exist, making it impossible for potential online customers to find you.

4. Make Your Web Site Interesting and Easy to Navigate

Think of your home page as a huge business card and utilize the space to show what you can do, who you are, where you are coming from, and why you are so special and unique.  Furthermore, think of your whole site as a place where visitors come looking for something they want or need, and give them not one, but many reasons why they should choose you to help them fulfill those needs or desires. Just leave the car salesman style out of it.

Make your site easy to navigate. Have a menu that is clearly organized with your portfolio, or blogfolio, main features, or list of services. Gather your stuff into categories and subcategories. Add a search field so visitors can enter what they’re looking for, instead of having to look for it all around your site.

Prioritize. Organize your menu (yes, that’s what your visitor is going to go for first) in the order you want your visitors to know you. The “Home” page always goes first, but what goes after that is a matter of choice. You want them to jump to your shop, if you have one, or learn more about you, or follow your blogfolio, etc.? Remember that you are actually pointing out the way to what you want them to see. Of course, they can choose in what order they look at your site, but it is always good to direct them according to what you think is the best route. It also helps you prioritize and organize what you offer.

Have descriptions. Offer descriptions of what you are offering, what you do, what you have done, and what you can do (each in its proper place, of course). Have professional pictures, but not only pictures, even if you are a graphic artist. Create a balance between pictures and descriptions. Oh, and make sure you check your grammar and spelling! Nothing yells “unprofessional!” louder than consistent misspelling, bad grammar, or bad (fuzzy) pictures.

Give something for nothing: information about the materials you use, about your chosen style, and go beyond what you offer to share extra information that is related to what you do for free. Don’t you hate those sites that offer you information only in exchange for your email address or if you register for an account? I do. The energy I get from those is that the people behind them are stingy or the car salesman type. Not for me, thanks!

Make it personal. Talk about your style and how it came about. Share information about each of your designs, or services as if you were talking to a real person. Nowadays customers are more selective and have more experience on the web. Give them yet another reason to choose you by making things more personal. We all like that.

Put yourself in your visitor’s shoes. Your potential customers are glad to know who you are and what you do, but don’t forget that they come to your site looking for something that they want or need. So keep in mind that you need to focus more on them and their needs, and less on your accomplishments. In other words, share who you are but be more generous with the information you share that would benefit your customer, and leave the ego out of it. You search the web for stuff, too, so you know what I mean.

You probably get the picture by now: it’s all about interesting content, personal content, and content that is useful for your customer, that is well organized and easy to find. Yes, that’s what’s all about…

5. Make Your Web Site Easy to Find Through SEO

So now you have a wonderful site, you’ve put so much energy into it, but nobody knows about it. It is somewhere in cyberspace, amongst millions of other web sites! How do you get the search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo to index your site and show it on searches? That’s when you need to add SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, to your web site.

I won’t go in depth about this, since it’s a subject you can easily find information about on the web, plus it’s one of those aspects that certainly require a learning curve, if you want to do it yourself, but I will stress two main things about SEO that relate to what I’ve been saying all along:

Make Your Site Interesting and Relevant. The key to high rankings on the search engines is again content, content, and content. Google and the other main searches want to provide people with relevant information, that is, information that is relevant to what they are looking for. This can be tricky, of course, since everyone in the world has been trying to direct traffic to their sites with unethical (spammy) methods, but the search engines have algorithms that evolve and change over time, making it harder for sites with no useful content to rank higher on searches. So no matter what else you do for SEO, it won’t take you far if your site has no valuable content.

Be Ethical in Your Approach to SEO. Beware of SEO services that offer you quick top rankings for a few bucks. They will get you in trouble. Yes, Google bans sites that try to trick them with unethical methods. They may get you high rankings at first, but once Google finds out how you got there, they will ban you. So keep that in mind. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. SEO is an organic process that takes time, patience, and effort, just like your art does. So be ethical in your SEO process as well.

6. A Few Basic Search Engine Optimization Tips:

Title, description, and keyword tags. Make sure each of your pages have unique title, description, and keyword tags in the <head> section of the page (meaning the html source of your pages). This is what you see on the top of your browser and it is also what shows on search engines, so make sure it is not “Untited”!

Paragraphs and h1 tags. Use paragraphs and sections with keywords, as well as h1 and h2 tags on your content titles and subtitles, so that search engines know what your page is all about right off the bat, and how you prioritize the content on each page. If you don’t know what h1 and h2 tags are, then use bold type for those titles and subtitles.

Relevant keywords. Include keywords in your menu links, titles and subtitles, and also on the links that direct to other relevant pages on your site, such as where you have articles, your blog, testimonials, etc.

Links to your site. Have links with your keywords linking from other sites to yours. Link popularity has become a bit tricky since there was so much spam involved in the past and search engines are more cautious about this, but you can probably find directories, galleries, blogs, and other sites on the web that are relevant and can link to yours (sometimes for a fee, sometimes for a link exchange). A good way to have links is to write articles with your information and link, and post them wherever you can. If others like the article, they will post it again and again, and you will benefit from the links. Just keep in mind that link popularity needs to be an organic process for search engines to take it into account. If you suddenly have 100 links back to your site they will see that as spam. Plus, one good link (with well chosen keywords) from a relevant and high ranked site is much more valuable than a hundred links from irrelevant sites, web portals, and generic directories.

Social media and forums. Participate in forums and social media sites. Yeah, that’s the big thing nowadays. Choose a few relevant places to have your information and links to your main site. Plus, you will probably get some useful information from other creative types and make new contacts in the process. Create a page on Facebook, have a Twitter account, start a blog, post your profile on LinkedIn…

You get the picture. Get out there and spread your creative, interesting, and useful content, and do it in a way that reflects on who you are and what your unique style is! The energy you put into it all will come back to you. Yes, it’s time consuming, but if you are well organized you can do it. This is why I believe that it’s so important to have clarity of purpose, believe in yourself and what you do, find your unique creative expression and style, organize and prioritize things in your head, your web site, and your life, even for marketing purposes.

With an ethical mind frame, your marketing is simply telling the universe, this is what I do, this is what I believe in, and this is what I am willing to put all my energy into! Your creative effort will certainly pay off. And on those days when nothing seems to be going your way, and you start doubting and wondering if it is worth it, just remember that whatever you do is going into the “effort account” that will eventually overflow and bring you success. So keep up the good work!

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Where Does Inspiration Come From?

Someone asked me the other day, “Where does your inspiration come from?” As a business owner and manager, I have to spend a lot of time dealing with business related stuff, learning about and implementing marketing strategies, designing new ads, keeping inventory and books up to date, optimizing web sites, etc., and with all the “technical” stuff going through my head sometimes it can be tricky to turn that switch off and jump back into the creative process of my jewelry designs. You may find yourself in a similar situation if you have a job that is not related to your creative endeavors. Even if you are a full time designer or artist, I am sure that sometimes you wonder what happened to your muse…

I have to admit that it is not inspiration that is generally missing in my creative process, but time to convert all my creative ideas into reality! Not to say that I haven’t had those blah days like anyone else, or doubts about what it is that I am doing. I don’t think any artist or creative type is completely free from those days, ever. But those are the times when I take a close look at myself to make sure my creativity is on the right track. Any designer or artist has to find their own style, their own voice, their own personal statement (that which makes their creations totally theirs), to find satisfaction in what they do. Otherwise it becomes like a mechanical job. I have to make sure I stay true to myself with what I am doing. This, of course, doesn’t mean that I don’t think about who my customers are or how to market my designs. It does mean, however, that creativity and business have to find a healthy balance to keep me sane and to keep the inspiration flowing.

So, where does my inspiration come from? Obviously, it emerges from my own life experiences and interests, but it gets nourished with the creations of other artists and designers. I really enjoy going to a bookstore or the library and browsing books or magazines on art, jewelry, and design (of course I love museums, too, but there aren’t that many where I live now). I browse the internet, too, of course. Not to copy or try to emulate anyone, but to get inspired by the length and depth of human creativity.

To give you an example, today I bumped into a blog post that I find not only inspiring, but also fun and ecologically minded, and if it has nothing to do with jewelry. Plus, it was like the perfect blend of “technical” (read, electronic) and creativity:

Animals from Old Electronic Parts
Animals from Old Electronic Parts

Inspiration can come from looking at shapes, colors, hues, ideas, designs, ads, and pretty much anything in between. That is why I don’t just look at jewelry books, but at a wide variety of art and design sources. It can also come from the feelings that certain music, movies, or conversations triggered in me at any given time. Regardless of where inspiration comes from, I keep myself in check to make sure that my designs come from my own ideas. Inspiration is one thing and trying to emulate someone else is a completely different animal. Not to mention that trying to transform creativity into a selling statement doesn’t work for me either. I am always in search of my own personal style, however changing and evolving it may be. Still, just my own.

Anyway, if you ever feel like your inspiration took a vacation, just give yourself a break  and go to a good concert, talk about the stuff that you like with a friend or other creative types, visit a bookstore, and check out other artists and designers to get re-inspired to find your own voice. Finding your true creative expression can be a challenge, but you have to remember that everything in life is a process and give yourself the necessary mental fuel to feed the creative flame!

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Ethical Marketing for the Creative Type

As I was growing up, my father worked for the Mexican government as an engineer doing these huge projects for power plants and such. He had majored in mechanical and electrical engineering, so he was good at both aspects of his field. At some point in his career, Japan started contracting work from Mexico, and my father was chosen to go to Japan and work on a project for an engineering company, along with a few of his colleagues.

As soon as the Japanese realized that my dad was an expert at both the mechanical and the electrical aspects of engineering, and that they could get two “specialties” in one person, they asked him to work for them directly as an independent contractor. A few projects and trips to Japan later, he retired from his government job and was making enough money to start his own business, which he did with a fellow engineer. Once the Japanese contracts were over, his company worked on projects for the government, which were pretty much what he was doing before he retired, except that this time he was making much more money as an independent contractor. And he was running his own show.

Now, I am not sure if this kind of stuff runs in the genes, or if it is my Gemini nature (as those who are into astrology would say), but “specializing” in one single thing has never been my cup of tea. When I was younger I thought that maybe my tendencies were counterproductive and I was scattering my energy doing many different things at once, but now I realize that it has all worked in my favor. I am able to tackle many a task and be focused on each single aspect (call me perfectionist) and bring it all to completion without losing the focus on my main goal. This, of course, has allowed me to manage a family business, run my own artisan jewelry business, work for other people doing free lance web design and marketing, and be a homeschooling mom!

My secret… I am always willing to learn what it takes to get things done and never walk away from the task at hand, no matter how much work it entails. Yes, it can be daunting and overwhelming at times, but in the end it’s also incredibly rewarding to see how much I’ve learned along the way, which means that things do get easier (and less overwhelming) as time goes by.

My husband and I started our Ayurvedic clinic 9 years ago, completely from scratch and on a very tight budget. He put his Ayurvedic expertise into practice helping clients with their health issues, while I put the business on the map, so to speak, through printed and online marketing. Of course, throughout these years I have learned so much about desktop publishing, printing, the internet, graphic and web design, shopping carts, photography, business management, computers, accounting, and so on. Some of my husband’s clients, who run their own businesses and can see how I manage ours, have mentioned many times, “I need a Yol!”

So I thought that maybe I should start sharing some of the business and marketing lessons I have learned all these years (and keep learning as the internet expands and changes), so that other self-employed artisans and creative types like me can benefit from my experience and insight.

Rather than making this post much longer today, I will just get started with a few thoughts for you to meditate on: You do not have to sound like a car salesman to promote your services or products. Actually, the more you sound like a car salesman, the more you will turn people off. Remember that your best marketing is your own service or product, so let it speak for itself by doing the best that you can, and more. Give 110% of your energy every single time.

Most business articles I’ve come across mention that you should do some market research to see what is missing in your community, or what sells and what doesn’t, before you quit your day job and start a business that will succeed. My guess is that this type of advice comes from standard business and marketing 101, which it is very helpful if want to start a business like say, a chain restaurant, or a kinko’s, or a dry cleaner, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to the self-employed creative type (artist, artisan, healer, herbalist, crafter, yoga teacher, etc.). Why? Because in this case I’d advise you to do what you LOVE and believe in, and not what the business manuals say. The energy you put into what you love will come back in many rewarding (and often unexpected) ways. As you focus on what you love to do, your own “style” and niche will surface.

If your budget is tight, then you will need to put a lot more of your energy to market what you have to offer the world. But first you need to make sure that what you have to offer the world is the best you can do and is truly you. And you cannot give 110% of yourself to what you do unless you absolutely love it!

To be continued…