Welcome to Part 2 of ‘the business side of a hand lettering and calligraphy start-up!’ I hope you enjoyed Part 1. This blog post is going to focus a lot on social media – let’s get into it!
Do you have to have many followers to start turning a hobby into a business? Did you allow your online following to grow naturally or were there steps you took to encourage growth?
No! Zero followers! I wanted the business before I had even learned the hobby. I started my IG and got to work with creating content. After almost a month of photos of my lettering I had amassed a modest 67 followers, some of those my friends and family. It wasn’t until I posted a lettering video that for some reason, people started finding my account and getting involved. I joined the Facebook group “Lettering League” and immersed myself in the lettering community which really helped.
My following is all totally organic. I 100% disagree with buying followers, I think it’s an awful tactic. Not only is it dishonest but in the long run it won’t serve you. Yeah brands will see your amount of followers which may intrigue them at first, but all it takes now is one quick peep at your IG stats to see they are totally non-engaged. I can pick bought followers a mile away. Have 20k followers and get 100-150 likes per post? Most likely fake. I also dislike the idea of engagement pods, and ‘beating’ the IG algorithm. Again, they’re not truly engaged followers – so why do you want that? It can take a sh*t tonne more effort to build an authentic following, but it’s worth it. If you’re trying to sell something, these fake followers ain’t gonna buy it are they?
Yes, mine has grown amazingly from 0 – 60,000 in just over a year, but please don’t think I hardly spend any time on IG! I have spent HOURS upon HOURS upon HOURS on IG – whether it be taking the perfect photo, spending an hour editing one video, 30 mins writing a caption, hours (I mean hours, it took me 4-5 hours straight the other week to reply to every comment on a photo) responding to people in comments and DMs, hours going through hashtags for inspiration or to give back by complimenting others in the community I admire. You can’t just throw some stuff up there and wait for the people to roll in. You have to build relationships with people, and it’s the part of IG I love the most. Crap day? I can jump on IG, share my frustration and someone will do whatever it takes to cheer me up. It’s amazing. I couldn’t do that if I paid money for my followers because they wouldn’t be real and wouldn’t care about me. I’d just get a bunch of useless comments saying “Cool!” “Wow!” “Nice photo!”. Lame.
You can definitely scale back on how much time you spend on there once you’ve got a solid following, but I found it to be crucial for me in the beginning, and I still try to connect with followers on there as much as possible. However, you certainly don’t need ANY to get started. Just start!!
What other tactics should I use to grow my following?
There are a jillion things you can do. When I first started BCC I actually saw some lady’s free webinar on social media. She basically gave out some simple advice, and it really helped. I had been doing none of what she suggested. Using your face as your brand, nope. I was using my logo because I wanted to be ‘professional’ and ‘corporate’. Sharing things about you, nope. For 2 months I wasn’t even using my first name let alone showing my face. Getting involved in the community, nope. I thought people would think I was a weirdo if I randomly commented on their posts.
Content aside, the best advice I can give you is to BE YOURSELF. That sounds so cliché and dumb, I know. But honestly, it’s the best thing you could do. Think of the people you follow, even celebrities. You don’t know them, but you’re interested in their lives because they share it with you. You know things about them. There will be only so much calligraphy someone can appreciate before it gets boring if it’s not backed up with a little more substance. I could name 10 boring calligraphers off the top of my head right now. I don’t connect with them and I wouldn’t buy anything from them. But on the other hand I could name another 10 AMAZING calligraphers – who might not be as skilled as the boring ones – but I don’t even care because they put their personalities out there, have let me get to know them, and have become my friends in the process.
You should also be as authentic and as honest as possible. If you’re not an expert in your field – don’t say you are! I have attracted the followers I have because the entire time I’ve painted the very true picture that I don’t have an artistic background. I picked up lettering in Dec 2015 and have worked really hard to get to this level. People find that inspiring because it’s achievable. Someone on IG with 20 years’ experience, 5 degrees and the unwillingness to share any tips or tricks just puts up a wall. Yes you will have people who simply want to appreciate their art, but they will lose a lot of people who just want to learn. What pen is that? What paper is that? Appearing untouchable won’t do any good for your social media presence. The most popular individual IG art accounts I know are all people who are willing to share themselves and their knowledge. What’s that quote? A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.
What about content?
Well yeah, that’s a no brainer too! If you aren’t amazing at flat lays right now or don’t have the best camera – don’t stress. All my photos and videos are taken, recorded and edited on my phone (Samsung Galaxy s7). You don’t need some DSLR camera (that’s a thing, right?) or skills in Photoshop to produce good images and videos. You certainly don’t need a fancy set up either – for the first 6 months of BCC I used to record videos by placing a selfie stick flat across a box that sat in front of me… ha ha ha. These days I use a flexible phone holder – but even that cost less than $10!
The best way to get ‘appealing’ images and videos is to take them and record them in daylight. It can be a drainer, especially if you’re like me and work all day but it really does make a difference. I’ll get up early before work, or take advantage of daylight on the weekend and create a few things in advance. But there are always apps to edit things. I use Picsart and Snapseed as well as lots of tweaking in the IG editor itself for images, and I edit my videos in the built in video editor on my phone, as well as in Adobe Clip. Nothing overly fancy!
There are always random little things you can do – choose a fancy table top / rug / whatever to put your piece of work on. I faked a marble table by buying printed contact from Kmart and sticking it onto a piece of foam board – ha ha ha. Another popular and easy way is to just place a couple of random pieces of stationery in your photo – pencils, paper clips whatever. Study other posts that are visually appealing to you and figure out why. Is it the colour scheme? Are they balanced? Learn from the things that you like.
What do you do day to day to further your online reach?
Keep on creating! IG is my customer base, so I have to keep active on there if I want to keep increasing my reach. I try not to do exactly the same stuff all day, every day. That would mean only the same people are seeing the same thing all day, every day. Yeah I do brush pen lettering, but I’m breaking into pointed pen, I muck around with chalk, I fiddle with my iPad Pro now. A niche is nice, but there is such a thing as pigeonholing yourself – which I have worked hard NOT to do in all aspects of my career. It’s good to have an overall focus, but with lettering in particular it’s a transferable skill so you can apply it to so many different things. I feel like my followers would get bored if I only did the same type of lettering every day, I’d definitely get bored, and I’d only be reaching the same people.
How do you stay relevant?
Relevant isn’t really ever a word I’ve thought to associate with myself. Probably because I’m only a couple years off 30 and still like all the things I did as a 10-year-old (I’m typing this while wearing a Jurassic Park t-shirt).
I try to stay up with artistic trends, but I prefer making my own. I keep an eye on what’s popular on IG and if I think it looks like fun I’ll try it myself. But I like making my own waves – like I did with Artline Stix and ‘ombre’ lettering, and dipping an Ecoline Pen into Ecoline Ink. That stuff went viral and I see it all over IG now, all day every day. Which makes me happy.
In my posts I talk about things that are happening in my life right now or around the world. That’s about as relevant as I know how to be.
There are already a tonne of talented creatives out there. How did you break into that space and were you ever intimidated by the popular people / IG accounts?
When I started BCC I wanted to be a business. Cold hard business! Business AF. Then I watched that webinar on social media and building an audience, and the lady basically said the opposite to everything I’d been doing.
The fact that I dove straight into the community and got to know people, and let people get to know me is what I think made a huge difference to me compared to some other artists out there. Yeah, sure. I was intimidated at first. I looked up to people and wished I could be like them, and tried to figure out what kinds of courses or training I would need to be as good as them (almost enrolled in a 10k graphic design course and a 4k type course), but then I realised that being me was way better – and easier. And honest. And people liked me and my art the way it was! I wanted a place to say whatever I wanted, create whatever I wanted, and have a fun time. Aside from trying not to say the f word every post, I don’t really censor myself which I enjoy.
I get bored when I follow accounts and they just talk about how fluffy and wonderful life is all the time. Snore. Tell me the truth. You left your reusable coffee cup at home, missed the .30c discount, then you spilled it on yourself and you were late to work. Your day was sh*tty, just say it. Be relatable. No one is perfect and people on IG sure as heck aren’t, so why pretend?
I just did what I wanted to do. As I’ve said, I’ve been open and transparent. So many big accounts on IG were so unwilling to help others or answer their questions, it was sad, and it holds them back. People want to know stuff, and me giving away a tid-bit of information doesn’t cost me anything. My art isn’t the secret herbs and spices from KFC, it’s some stuff that I’ve learned somewhere else, so what harm does it do telling others?
Some artists can come off with the “I’m amazing, look at my art, what a shame you’ll never be this good lol” vibe – and that puts people off. I treat everyone like we’re on the same playing field, because we are. I was and still am a learner – what’s the point in acting like I’m anything else?
How do you deal with copycats and competition?
I used to care about copycats, but there’s no point. As the saying goes, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. You can’t whinge that someone did something you did and didn’t credit you. Hardly anything these days is an original idea so it’s pointless wasting time and energy on it.
Competition drives me, that’s the point of competition isn’t it? You’re not supposed to just roll over when someone new comes along. It inspires you and motivates you to do more and do better. It’s important to keep an eye on your competition and to learn from them, but don’t focus on them or you’ll fall behind. If you try to replicate what your competition is already doing, you’ll be 3 steps behind them, always. Look forward more often than you look sideways. The whole ‘community over competition’ is also something I subscribe to, and I love supporting others in the same space (like with this blog post), but at the end of the day when you’re running a business, there is competition and you do need to keep an eye on it. #realtalk
When do you know you’re ‘good enough’ to do client work? How do you get the confidence? At what point do you switch from newbie to professional?
I love these questions because it FRIGHTENS me how many amazing people are out there that don’t think they’re good enough, and my favourite thing to do is empower them. If you have 5 minutes, scroll to the beginning of my IG. I do not consider this work good compared to what I produce now, but I didn’t let that stop me. I had awesome friends and family around me who thought (and still do, surprisingly!) that it was amazing, and I just went for it.
As I said in Part 1, you just have to jump. If you sit back waiting for that perfect moment, you’re going to miss it. I know several IG accounts that have 100s of 1000s of followers purely because they started doing what they’re doing at the RIGHT time. They jumped on board as something was about to become really popular, and now they are really popular as a result. They aren’t the best artists out there, not by a mile, but they’re a product of good timing and that works just as well. Don’t let your fear of not being good enough hold you back, you might miss your chance.
About client work – you’re good enough to do it whenever someone asks you to! I was approached via email to do something maybe 4 months into things. I had no idea what I was doing. It was a $50 social media video and I just gave it my best shot. I was panicking about international payments, and if it was something they liked, but you just have to take those opportunities and do your best! You will learn from every job you accept. I highly doubt someone who approached you is going to turn around at the end and be like “oh, that’s crap!” They wanted your style, so they will like it.
If someone asks you to do something, whether that be a family member, a friend, a small business or a big-ass brand – THAT is how you get the confidence. If literally anyone in the world has asked you to make something for them, you should be supremely confident in yourself, immediately. Heck, I was confident in myself before I knew what I was doing or if anyone liked it. Again, scroll back through my posts, I talked about my business like it was some amazing corporation. If you sit there and say “hmm, I dunno I mean, it’s not my best work, I think it’s OK but I still have a lot to learn” – that doesn’t instil confidence in OTHER people, let alone you. So just own it.
Doesn’t sound like you? That’s OK, there are other ways to gain confidence. PRACTISE! Hone your skills. Do something 1000 times until you’re truly happy with it if you have to. Immerse yourself in the lettering community. You will feel a lot more empowered with supportive people behind you, so build your tribe. Join a Facebook group, share your work, ask for feedback, take it on board and learn.
I can sit here and say I’m confident AF – but I still worry every time I post something on IG whether or not I’ve made a spelling mistake, or whether some douche will be like “Not a p.” on my video of the letter p, but that’s just part of social media and has made me come out of my shell a lot, I’ve had no choice. You have to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable to that kind of stuff, even if some of it sucks. The more you do something, the easier it will become. As long as you can be confident that you’re doing something good, but still be humble enough to accept that you will always have room for improvement, you will be fine. I am my harshest critic, and trust me, it makes copping criticism from others a lot easier if you’re just as tough on yourself!
ONE FINAL THOUGHT
This is related to social media but also a bit of a timely rant. I’ve seen some absolute BS on Instagram lately telling people to beware of the “Insta Celeb”. Saying that popular accounts basically have sh*tty work and IG has just conveniently made us all teachers. Our work isn’t “quality” – we just add a few pencils and paperclips to our pics for likes but our letterforms suck and we are making people dumber for thinking our work is good. We also apparently only teach others to make money, not because we love it.
Mind you, the person making these remarks runs expensive (non-nationally recognised courses) – yet us “Insta Celebs” are the ones constantly sharing information for free across various social media platforms. Hmm…
If you’re an aspiring calligrapher who would one day love to teach workshops – please know that you do NOT need a degree or 30 years’ experience to teach art and craft. I mean sure, if you want to teach people in recognised courses or degrees – absolutely. But you do not need that to run a workshop, post a helpful blog or give someone some advice on techniques you use.
You do not need a degree in education to help others learn. I have NO teaching experience outside of lettering and calligraphy, but I’m an epic problem solver – I do it all the time in my day job. This has helped me untangle creative problems for people and figure out why something isn’t working for them. Is that not being a good teacher? Breaking things down into simple steps and providing content that’s palatable?
It’s the same way you don’t need a degree or a million years’ experience to learn and become good at certain art. If you practise like crazy and get good at it……….you’re good at it! It’s quite literally not rocket science and just because you haven’t done it all your life does not mean you aren’t good and does not mean you can’t help others learn just the way you did.
At the end of the day, if people like YOU and YOUR WORK, they will want to learn from you. Degree in teaching or no degree. I know a tonne of very talented people, but their work isn’t anything I personally wish to learn so I would never take their course. This is why sharing yourself and being open on social media is important – it doesn’t matter how well-regarded or established you may be in the industry – all it takes is you being more engaging and relevant, and boom! You’ve got yourself some customers.
Don’t pay attention to people who spread crap like the above, they speak from a place of insecurity and envy. Believe in yourself, and if anything, use dumb comments like these to spur you on to proving them so very, very wrong. #InstaCelebsArePeopleToo
Did I miss something? Is there anything more you’d like to know? Leave me a comment below and I can add it on!
If you found this post helpful I would love it if you shared it using the social buttons below!