Mistakes I Made When I Started My Art Business
So I just want to let you know that this, this whole journey that we're on, this road that we're building, this is it. This is our life.
You're listening to Unfold with Kellee Wynne. This is an unpolished, imperfect and totally honest podcast, and I'm talking to all artists, creatives, visionaries, and changemakers, who want to live a life by design and not by default. If you're ready to have thought provoking eye opening and heart centred conversations, that explore the stories that made us who we are, and break through the boundaries of expectations than you are in the right place.
Hello, hello, everybody. Welcome to Unfold with Kellee Wynne. Hey, I told you this whole summer, we were going to do a series on artists in business. And guess what, that's me. I'm an artist, and I'm in business. And I figured I'd just go ahead and divulge all my secrets, all the behind the scenes, everything that I know and everything that I've done, and every little mistake that I've made, so that maybe you don't have to make the same mistakes, or you can commiserate with me, because you've been down that path before and you realise, oh, yeah, check. I did that, too. So today, that's what I want to talk about, all the mistakes that I've made. And I want to give you a good caveat with that. Yes, I made a lot of mistakes. I'm still learning from those mistakes. But I don't really think of those mistakes as something bad. They're just something that led me to where I am. Every time that something didn't go, right. I learned from it, I grew from it. And I changed how I did things, hopefully not repeating the same mistakes over and over again, so that I can do better with my job, with my art, with my entire business and how I serve you.
So I'm going to span through from pretty much the time that I decided to come back into making art to now. So you know, we've got like eight whole years that I spent.... approximately eight whole years that I spent working towards selling my artwork, showing in galleries, before I turned around and started working online to create courses and memberships and education for other artists. And that was 2018 the very first time that I actually launched a course. But there was a lot of work that came before that to make that decision and a lot of ups and downs. To tell you the truth. It was kind of a roller coaster, some big wins some big losses, a lot of effort put in and not much gained in return. But that was all part of the learning curve. For me. That was all things that I did that helped me be able to serve, you better be able to show up online and say, Hey, I've been there, I've done it. And this was my experience. I've done everything from working for nonprofit organisations during shows. I've shown in Chelsea New York City, I've been a artists in residence and a high end gallery in Baltimore. I've sold online I've sold on Instagram I've sold in galleries. Each of those experiences along the way, you know changed my perspective. For many years I curated for West Annapolis artworks, putting together shows, choosing the artists, doing all the marketing and promotion hanging the show, hosting the show. I've been licenced through Maine Cottage, which is a national furniture store. I've had a lot of really crazy experiences that have led me to see the insides and outsides of all kinds of possibilities with selling and marketing artwork.
And then as I shifted into courses, then I saw a whole other world of online entrepreneurship that just drastically changed my trajectory of where I was going. And my need for showing up in galleries and selling my artwork in person really took a back seat to my like outstanding desire to build the business online. Which is really my favourite thing that I've done so far. But there are things that I've learned along the way that, you know, I made some mistakes that carried on through even into my online business that I'd love to be able to share with you how you might be able to take away from that. And, you know, maybe hold back a little bit before you jump on and do some of the things that I've done. Or if you've done them, maybe you'll recognise yourself in it and instead of continuing down that path, maybe you'll have an aha moment and change directions, change lanes just a little bit.
Okay, so let's just get right into the first thing that I want to talk about which is branding, design logos. I am the queen of loving a Re-brand I love good refresh, I love to design, I love to hire people to design, I like to invent new businesses just so I can design something for it. But the problem with that is that when you're always spending your time focusing on trivial little things like your logo or your branding or your website, you're not spending your time actually building the business and marketing and showing up and making your work, which is far more important than the branding. I've spent money on the logos and design work I've had my whole website designed. And here's the challenges is I didn't really know where I was going, I didn't know who I was in business and entrepreneurship. And so the work and the time and the effort and the money, that all went into all of this beautiful design and branding was wasted. Because again, a few months later, I would realise that didn't suit me, that didn't follow through. So without seeing the bigger picture of what I was doing, and where I was going, I was spending a lot of time and money on things that weren't important instead of just making the work and selling the work. And that's really the most important thing when you get started. Whether you're selling artwork, or creating a course, or have some sort of other really beautiful creative programme that you're designing all of the the collateral that goes around it, you know, the the beautiful graphics and photos, it isn't as nearly important as you, yourself. And that's what I've come to discover is that I spent so much time on the outside things, looking out, the forward facing, how pretty does my feed look, did my stories posts have a nice branded, you know, whatever, like, we get caught up in these things. And they don't really lead us to where we need to go, yes, a few beautiful photos will make a difference over something that would be dark and not designed well. But here's the thing, you are your brand, I am my brand. And what was the most important thing was the art that I was making. And that should speak for itself. So if all I had done was left a nice white page, on my Instagram, on my website, or my Facebook, wherever it was that I was showing up, and that it just had my artwork and my name, that would have been enough, then there would have been far less waste in time and effort and money. And a lot more effort put into the important part, which is creating and selling the artwork, or the course, or the product. So I hope this is something that might be a good aha moment for you. Because if you think that you need to have this all done before you get started, I actually want to challenge you to not do it at all. Just it's your name, artist, and the artwork. It's your name, courses, and the artwork, it's still the artwork, it's still you and the artwork that matters. When you're putting together a beautiful creative business. Nothing else is as important as that. So if you don't have that mastered, you're wasting a lot of time on a fancy design that isn't going to really take your business to the next level that comes after that comes when you're more established. When you understand yourself and where you're going and what you want to create. Are you edgy and bold? Are you soft and feminine? Did you want something more corporate because you've realised that your artwork sells best in big office buildings and hospitals and hotels? well then see where your path goes first, and then come back and design the collateral around it when you've established yourself making money and making progress with the people that you're connecting with, with the art courses that you're making, and see if that doesn't make a huge difference and saving you a lot of time and headache around the whole pretty design and logo idea that you just don't need right now. That was a that was one of the things that if I could go back and do over, I would just not do it at all, I wouldn't worry about it so much.
On that note, the other problem that I had that went along with the whole, you know, collateral of branding and logos and design is that I really loved the print and the merch and the cards and the little business cards and the postcards and all of that to go with it. And I would order by the 1000s. And so I had all of these business cards that I ended up tossing because in the end, we don't really use business cards that much anymore. And every time I went and changed my design there I have all of the stuff that I didn't need anymore. So you can see where this is like propelling you down the wrong path and creating something that you actually don't need. So yeah, so lots of cards went in the recycling bin.
Along that note, I created prints before I was ready as well. And so this is some thing I really want to caution artists is a question I get all the time. I love to make prints and sell prints. And they've just started their art business. And so they're asking, Do I go to a printer? Where do I find it online? How do I get the pictures taken, you know, should I buy a printer to print them myself, I think that we should have many streams of income as artists when the time is right. But if you're still starting, and you haven't mastered the art of selling the original work, it's not time for prints yet, unless you're an illustration and design, and that's all you're going to be selling is prints, not the original artwork. So then for you, you know, you can ignore that's a whole different business plan. But for this, specifically, as an artist, creating artwork, creating paintings, if you haven't spent enough time selling the originals to see what sells what resonates, developing your voice a little bit further, and kind of evolving to where you know, you know you're going down the path that's gonna stick, because what happens is, is you invest a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of product that you just have sitting around, I had bins of prints that I still, you know, how many years later 2014 is probably when I have a lot of those printed, and here I am, I still have them. One thing that I really realised after making prints like that, and products even is that it took just as much effort to sell those prints. If I needed to sell 20 of them to make the same amount of money as if I sold one painting, it took just as much effort to sell those to 20 Different people versus one person to buy one painting. And so my energy is exhausted, through trying to push small products versus the large products. I'd caution artists over and over again, please don't just jump right into printmaking, spend time selling the originals, see what resonates with your audience, discover who you are more as an artist, and how your voice is going to develop. And when you see a consistency, and that you've mastered this art of selling your artwork of creating collections, creating things that resonate with others, then it might be time to take that next step to make prints, or do print on demand or find a place to make prints for you.
And so that's just a little bit along that line of jumping too soon before you're ready. And to all the fun things that you see everybody doing online, I get it. It's so enticing. We're watching everyone on Instagram. And they have perfectly curated feeds and, and products made and a website that just looks so enticing, but it probably took years to get to that point where they're selling work consistently. And they can sell prints consistently or products consistently or whatever it is that they have. That just naturally evolved into this beautifully curated brand. And in all honesty, not everybody needs to be a curated brand, not everybody needs to have something perfectly designed, sometimes the best, the absolute best thing you can do is just show up as yourself, just show your work. Just show it over and over and over again. And sooner or later, whether you like it or not, you've got a brand.
One thing that was really challenging for me, in my evolution, as a business owner, as a CEO, whatever you want to call it was hiring the right kind of help. So this was a really big challenge for me over the last, let's say five years of running my online business, hiring the right kind of help and working with the right kind of people. And I think that there's something that we need to start doing more, which is trusting our instincts. Sometimes we want something bad enough that we're willing to jump into something into a relationship into a work situation, into a collaboration that's not quite the right fit for us. And I can see back, actually, for like the last decade of me repeating this habit. And maybe part of that is because I'm a very trusting person, very enthusiastic and very eager, as you may well have noticed. I'm full of energy and full of ideas. And when an opportunity comes, it's like I'm ready to jump on it.
And I'm grateful for a lot of the opportunities that I've had, curating and working for nonprofit organisations and, and all of the things in between that I mentioned. But most of those times I was working for free or for very little pay. Yes, I wanted to get my feet wet in the industry. I wanted to have the experience and learn more and grow more and really by jumping in and volunteering. I had more opportunity to show my work and to make better connections. So there was a lot of upside in the opportunities that I said yes to. The downside was that I didn't set boundaries for myself or realistic expectations of what it would lead to thinking that this would be the catalyst that would set me off on the next path to success. And what it was was just a little stepping stone. And oftentimes I allowed people to take advantage of me along the way to work for years, honestly, without pay is kind of embarrassing to tell you the truth. Because I was damn good at what I did, I could fill up a gallery, I could pick amazing artwork and get artwork sold. And to do that, in exchange for, you know, a higher cut of my own art sales like that was a win on a few years too long before I finally said, Whoa, I think I'm done here. I will say I gained absolutely the best knowledge and skill set from that. So you can almost call it like my higher education and learning how to run an art business.
But there were other relationships that I probably should have said absolutely no to some of the partnerships I did for art shows or for artists and residents, you know, not everybody is going to be a perfect fit. And some of those ended up being negative energy that really didn't leave me feeling like it was worth the time and energy that I put into it. However, in hindsight, everything has its value, because it leads to growth. Yes, I should have set better boundaries when it came to opportunities. But I don't regret it, because I learned so much. And it's made me stronger, and who I am now as I move forward, with this whole new future ahead of me, being able to help support you to lead you and to guide you, having had these experiences make a huge difference and being able to give advice, coach my clients, and really show up in the fullness of experience that I've had and be able to give some hopefully damn good advice, what not to do.
But on that note, also, it's not just the opportunities that I chose to say yes to that might not have been perfectly aligned. It was also hiring help one I didn't hire help soon enough. And two, I didn't hire the right kind of help. So what I mean by this is, you know, for for a long time, I was working on things and doing a lot of cutting corners DIY, whether it was, you know, framing myself, or managing the entire build of a course and design and launching it by myself. I'm proud of being able to figure out all of the details, the tech the in and out all of the things I needed to do to show up and build a business.
However, that meant 80 hour work weeks, that meant burning the candle at both ends, that meant really exhausting myself, pushing myself to the limits on many days of trying to figure out you know, even even as I was going was spinning my wheels, Am I doing the right thing? How do I get to the next level? What am I doing next. So what I would do in hindsight, is, instead of paying someone to design the next logo or website, which wasn't important, I would have hired a coach a lot sooner. And I would have hired someone to help me just manage my inbox, get a virtual assistant to manage my inbox, help with customer support, and then a lot of little admin things. What I did instead was hire artists and friends to help me in support in the business. And while at the time, it seemed like a really good idea because they were the people I knew and trusted. What it ended up doing was two things deteriorating friendships. Because you don't always want to mix business and friendship together. And two, they weren't the right fit for the job. So when I need someone to do an admin job, a virtual assistant job to answer emails and plug in data and you know, check a little tech glitch along the way, I really should be hiring a real virtual assistant. If I need someone to commute be a community manager to help support my customers. The best person for the job is someone who's trained to do that because they then can support me and help me rather than me, support them and train them on every little in and out when they're an expert. They can help me, same with framing. I put together frames they look kind of so so mediocre. But when I hired out artwork professionally framed, the artwork looked amazing and sold better.
So there were certain areas where I wasted money and time for sure. Like I said at the beginning of This episode with logos and design where there were other times where I wish that I had spent more time, or hired the right people to help me grow my business more efficiently. And I think I would have made progress faster, because that's what happens when you hire the right people, you're shortening the gap between where you are and where you want to go. And I will say that it was 2020. After we all close down for the pandemic, and I was running myself ragged, trying to adjust the membership that I had to something that was more aligned with where I wanted to go and how I wanted to show up. And every time I tried to tweak it, and every time I tried to do more, and every time that I tried to get my friends on board to help me build it, the more things started to crumble. And by the by the fall of 2020, that's when I shut down my membership, I had massive burnout, which I've talked about before. And one of these days, maybe I'll go into even more depth of how that still affecting me now, and carrying with me moving forward.
But what I will say is, that was the point where I finally hired proper help. And I retired my friends from their position because it wasn't the perfect fit for them, they had other dreams. And I had needs to build my business in a way that was far more efficient. And that's when I hired a virtual assistant, that's when I hired a coach, that's when I hired somebody who was perfect for the job that I needed them to do, rather than always trying to fit my friends into the situation that wasn't perfectly ideal for them. And so this is a big learning curve that I would love to impart wisdom on, you hire the right people from the start, it may seem like oh, but that's cutting into my costs, it's so expensive. When you shorten the time from where you are to where you want to go, and you have the right help.
That means you are better at the job that only you can do. And it's only you who can paint, it's only you who can show up and use your voice. It's only you who can teach or create the next big idea. And so without you being able to be in the full presence of your energy to what you want to accomplish. And because you DIY everything yourself, you're not going to make progress in your business nearly as fast. Now, I'm not saying you've just started, you should go hire help. But I'm saying pay attention to where you're holding yourself back from hiring the right people at the right time.
And we're gonna go into depth on how to build a support system, what the kind of roles are that you can hire for and how to structure your business at a future date, maybe this summer in the series, but it is something that I'm really excited about and passionate about is building systems that help you succeed. Okay.
And then my final thing that I want to discuss about the probably the biggest mistake that I still keep making. And we'll call this a concept that I've heard many times it's the power of one. And it's really about the idea that you focus on something long enough to master it before you move on to the next thing, and I suck at that I have to just tell you right up, I'm like the rest of you, I'm multi passionate, I want to do all the things, I have a million ideas, I want to be able to try this type of art and sell it in this place. And when this opportunity comes along, I want to jump at it. And then I have a new business idea. And I can make this product and I can teach this course, I'm going to do a YouTube and a Tik Tok. And, you know, next thing you know, you're like, oh my goodness, I'm in over my head. And so the concept of power of one is picking one thing for one person, and one avenue of selling it. And this is something I didn't do right from the get go whether it's your artwork, or it's a course, or it's a programme or it's coaching, or it's something creative that you've invented, for your way forward with your business. If you don't put a good strict, you know, blinders on and focus, you're not going to build it to the magnitude of which you can build it.
And this was a pattern that I've seen over and over again, there have been times where it's appropriate to pull back and say, Hey, this isn't the right thing for me, like my membership. And like the time that I was trying to build an agency of selling artwork to designers, and that those were two times where I knew about six months into the agency, I pulled back and was about two and a half years into the membership where I pulled back and said this is also not working.
But there were many other things that could have worked amazingly well that I didn't stick with long enough. Different styles of artwork, course designs and concepts messaging. There's a lot of times where whether it was fear overwhelm a new like shiny object syndrome that I diverted my attention From actually following through on goals that I had set for myself, for example, had I just started at the very beginning, just consistently painting artwork that was recognisable as my own style and not changing every single time, there was a new opportunity that called for something completely different, I probably would have made progress to become more known in my industry for a certain style for artwork that was consistent that I could show up and people would know what they were gonna get, they could look forward to saying, Hey, I got a Kellee original. And it was because I was changing styles so often that never really fully developed. So, for example, just sticking with the archer series, which I've talked about many different times that really I hit something brilliant at that time that I didn't know. But I had created something that was pretty unusual and new for the area especially. And I sold out, I sold out of my first two series of my arches. And then I put it on the backburner and moved on to something else, because there was a call for scenes of of Maryland for Maryland Day or something like that. And so I did, you know, the Capitol and florals and landscapes. And I went back to that again, instead of continuing on and exploring deeper what that could mean, showing up in all the ideas and iterations in my head of like how my voice could develop and how this whole entire concept like I could see the whole future of where I could go with that the right kinds of furniture stores that I could licence prints to the types of people that I could market to high end designers, were starting to make connections with me. And I cannot just let the floor fall out from under the whole project because I moved on to the next thing too quickly. And then as I built up the florals, I did the same thing again and again. And as soon as I got to a place where something was going well, and I could have just gone full force with it, I shifted again.
And so this kind of falls along with even my online art, business teaching art, for example, I made the timeless series, that golden arches type of artwork. And I came back again to that I had this whole magnificent idea of travelling around the world using architecture as inspiration for sketches and for loose abstract type drawings, and creating art courses around it. And I did, I created one amazing, gorgeous course called Timeless art. And it's got the timeless arches in it. It's got the patterns of Portugal and it's got postcards from Paris in it. So this full idea totally evolved into one beautiful course. But my idea had been to create many to travel over and over again, and bring those ideas to the forefront in ways in which you could create your art. And guess what guess what got put on the backburner so that I could work on the next project? And I'm not saying I regret that because I learned a lot about it. But I haven't even opened that art course again, since I created it in 2019. And it was a gorgeous art course. And I could have continued with it. Of course, let's not forget the fact that in 2020 Yes, we did have a whole entire global shut down. It's only now that we're starting to open.
But as ideas like these, where we start and we stop and we hold ourselves back and we switch lanes again, in all honesty, I started coaching, in my creative launch for artists programme back in 2016. It was amazing. I coached all these artists that came to me I curated their art, I hung it in a gallery, we sold a tonne of art, and everyone came away just fulfilled and thrilled with the experience that they had grown so much. And did I do it again? Did I repeat that process again? Did I show up the next year in 2017. And offer creative launch for artists part two? No. 2017 I was on to the next thing. So this is the pattern that I've seen whether it's with my artwork is with a programme or design idea. It's with a coaching programme, that I keep developing new ideas and not following them through.
And so I'm sitting here telling you right now, did you stick with something long enough? Have you followed through on the ideas that you have? the gifts that you've been given the talent that you have? the voice that you have? Have you stuck with it long enough to see it succeed? Because honestly, this business requires the long game and the longer you stick with something and the more that you learn how to master that before you do anything else, the more likely it is that you are going to be successful. I watched this time and time again. But it really takes showing up and doing it again and again perfecting it until you get it right. Learning and growing and I'm really developing this comes over time, it's not, I've built it and they will come. It's not, here's my artwork, why is nobody buying it, there's so much that goes into learning how to master the craft of being in business. That is not so simple as to just show up, share an idea and be a success. It takes repeat effort, it takes consistency. And that is the magic of business, when you can be consistent with anything, whether it's your showing up for your social media, creating artwork, consistently, learning how to launch a course, a programme, a coaching offer, learning how to launch, launch it, learn from it, tweak it, do it again, learn from it again, and launch it again, these are the things that evolve you into success.
And I will say, after a decade or so of being in business, I need to double down on one idea and see it through and be consistent with it. So that's why I'm here talking to you about something that I've been wanting to talk to you about for ages now, which is how to build a business, I am very passionate about this. That was kind of the whole idea when I launched Unfold with Kellee Wynne was that I would take you on this journey with me. The whole holistic look at how I arrived here in the place that I am, as an artist in business, as a successful artists in business, making more than a doctor. And I'm not gonna mince words about it, but I make a lot of money doing what I'm doing. And I plan on making a lot more. Because with that, you know, go back to last episode. With that comes a lot of opportunity a lot that I can give back, a lot that I can do to serve people that I can hire, and I can spread that goodness everywhere I can do more for you. And so for me, this is like one of the most exciting things if there's one thing I've been consistent with, it's wanting to have my own business and have it be successful.
And so that is the journey that I've been on. I've made my mistakes, I've learned from mistakes, I will probably make many, many more to come. Because that's just me, I'm human. But I'd rather be transparent with you and tell you those ups and downs on the challenges that I've had, that things haven't always gone the way I want. There have been many, many years where I'm lucky that if I could rub two pennies together by the end of the year of art shows that I've put my artwork up for sale and not sold even a single one. And that happened many times, of even offering online artwork and not having it sell.
So I just want to let you know that this this whole journey that we're on this road that we're building, this is it, this is our life, this is our experience, we got to savour it for what it is, roll with the punches have those days where nothing sells and other days where everything sells. Have those days where you're on top of the mountain and other days where you just don't think that you can go on. Yes, that's part of the business. That's part of the game. That's part of showing up online and telling people, Hey, doors are open, I'm here, hire me, buy my work, support me or be part of my community. Come watch my thing. Like my thing, leave a comment, join my list, whatever it is that you're asking people to do today. It sometimes works sometimes doesn't. But it's the consistency of showing up over and over again, putting your butt on the line and seeing where you can take it to places that you probably would have never expected.
Alright, I hope that this episode has been helpful for me to be able to impart some insight into behind the scenes of how I've gotten to where I've gotten so far. In next episode, I'm going to tell you all the things I did do right so that you don't think that everything's just about mistakes to learn from but there are some things that have gone really well over the last decade and I want to be able to share that with you.
So make sure that you tune in to Unfold with Kellee Wynne next week. And do me a favour. Please like, comment, follow, share, whatever it is that you need to do. Go back to my Instagram account. Kellee Wynne studios that's KELLEEWYNNESTUDIOS. Go and find me anywhere. It's the same everywhere. It's on YouTube, it's on Instagram, it's my website. Go and share this episode with somebody that you think could really hear this message today so that they know they're not alone and all of the ups and downs of building their business they can would make a difference.
And if you haven't snag my PDF my free PDF, you can use the link in the show notes for 100 ways to make money as an artist without selling your ART. look, I got you covered. So go to Kelleesynnestudios.com/ 100 and snag your PDF today and see if it doesn't light a spark in you as soon as you've downloaded it and started reading through it if you don't have like 100 new ideas of your own. Okay, thank you so much and I will see you next time. Bye.
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