I love creative people.
There’s something inherently fascinating to me about people that create art. Whether it’s painting, music, film, writing, racing, manufacturing, or some other creative outlet, I get a ton of joy out of speaking with people about the motivations and ambitions behind their art. If given the chance, I’ll give my “two cents” about how they can turn their art into their full time job. Regardless of the genre of art you create in, chances are my first bit of advice is to start a newsletter.
In the constantly moving digital landscape of today, the most important thing you can do is to deliver consistently. If you deliver quality work on a consistent basis, people will begin to incorporate your work into their lives. Just as we know what day of the week our favorite television show comes out, delivering your content on a consistent basis will create an expectation of delivery and people will work you into their routines to consume it. Dependability and reliability are essential for building trust. Again, consistency is the keyword here.
That’s where the newsletter comes in, and it’s actually way easier than you think. In the beginning, there’s no need to get bogged down by third-party websites and apps to help you deliver a high quality newsletter to thousands of subscribers. Google allows you to send up to 500 e-mails a day, so chances are that’s going to be more than enough to get started with.
Step 1: Ask your friends. Unless your artistic talent is a complete secret (why?!?!), your friends will know what kind of art you make and, if they’re actually friends worth having, they want to support you in your artistic pursuit (in the least financially taxing way possible). The easiest thing to do is shoot your friends a quick text message, asking them if you can add them to your new mailing list. Unless they’re a complete asshole, chances are they’re gonna say yes!
In the half dozen times I’ve done this, I’ve never once encountered somebody who didn’t want to be included in the newsletter. People I’ve added without their permission, however, never hesitate to let you know they’re not interested.
Step 2: Build a Spreadsheet. I’m sure the idea of a “spreadsheet” scares the most sensitive of artists, but when you’re starting out, having an organization system for your contacts is essential. The reason I recommend starting with a spreadsheet is because, later in the process when you’re ready to upgrade to those newsletter programs, you can easily upload your spreadsheet into your contacts list. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but you do need to make sure that at a bare minimum, you have their First Name, Last Name, and E-mail Address.
PRO TIP: If you don’t want to manually input contact information, I recommend making a simple Google Form, asking for their contact information, which will dump their answers into a spreadsheet on your Google Drive. Post this Form on a landing page and share the web address on your social media accounts and include a link in the bottom of your e-mail.
Step 3: Pick a delivery day and stick with it. As we went on ad nauseam earlier, consistency is key. Think about what day you’re want to send out your newsletter, and be sure to consider the time you’ll need prior to create and deliver the content. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. I’d also spend some time thinking about “where” your content fits into your subscriber’s lives. If you’re a motivational writer, you may want to consider sending out your e-mail early in the week (when people are motivated) and early in the day (when people need a jumpstart). If your speciality is nature photography, maybe think about sending out your newsletter in the middle of the week, while people are making plans for the weekend. (Bonus points if you can build the expectation into the title of your newsletter like, “MAD Potential Mondays” or “Don’t Die on Saturdays.”)
PRO TIP: With a little searching, you can easily find an extension or Google App that allows you to send e-mails at a later date. Find what works for you!
Step 4: Engage. You want to share your art, you asked your friends if you could share it with them, you found a day that works for you, and now you’ve sent out the first edition of your art newsletter. Congratulations… now get back to work! Now is the most important time to engage with your readers. Ask them what they thought of your art. Ask what they’d like to see in the newsletter. Ask if they’d consider sharing it with their friends. This first wave of support is the most important, you want your readers to share your content, letting the ripple extend beyond your reach. Feed the animals and they’ll feed you back!
Step 5: Monetize. Okay, this is way down the line (most likely months or years), but it’s worth keeping in mind early in the process. When it comes to cultivating an online presence, the most important thing you can have is a robust mailing list. Having a solid mailing list allows you direct access to your readers, which opens up longterm financial opportunities like brand cultivation, selling merchandise to your readers, or advertising space in your newsletter to sponsors. I promise you don’t need hundreds of thousands of fans, in fact, some people (like Kevin Kelly) believe all you need is 1000 true fans.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Let’s say you’re an artist, like my friend Aaron. He draws cartoons containing some odd, dark, creative characters. I really like his stuff and one day I can see it on shirts and skateboard decks (apparently he’s already done shirts, so he must be onto something).
I asked him if he’d considered starting a newsletter, and he (like many), simply thought it was too much work. I told him it didn’t have to be too crazy, just one comic and a little paragraph about it, with a call for sharing at the bottom. Again, the guy goes to school and he works nights, so the free time he does get he tries to spend with his girlfriend, his pitbull, or drawing. The thing he does not want to do is spend his hard-earned free time building spreadsheets. I totally get it.
I might have begged him to reach out to his friends and ask if they would be interested in receiving his newsletter, and he did. I laid out the four steps above for him and told him about another artist that I’d give the same advice to…
Week 1: First Newsletter. He sent out the newsletter to his closest 20 friends from his Gmail account. Just one comic on Friday. A few people responded, but it wasn’t a standing ovation his first time at bat. No biggie. Onward!
Week 2: Second Newsletter. The all-important follow up. Successful delivery of the first newsletter shows that you have the ability to craft and deliver an e-mail (good for you!), but when the second e-mail newsletter shows up in your readers’ inbox, their thinking shifts. They recognize you’re serious about this newsletter thing, so subconsciously, they’re gonna give it a tad more attention than they did the first time. Again, a few more people responded, complimenting him on the cartoon and newsletter. He even got a few shares on social media and picked up a few new readers. Progress!
Week 3: He missed it. Sometimes life gets in the way, or you aren’t inspired, or whatever, but he did not send out his newsletter on the third week. To many newsletters, this could be a death wish. He tried, he got off the ground, but crashed on week three. One could assume in the finicky world of e-mail newsletters that many would have crossed him off the list and moved on with their lives…
But that’s not exactly what happened. In fact, he received a few e-mails like, “Hey! It’s Friday. Where’s the newsletter?” In just two short weeks, he had already worked his way into the Friday routines of some of his readers. Circus clowns only need “that one person” to laugh in order for everything to be worth it. Your newsletter shouldn’t be much different, if it matters to one (other) person, it’s worth it!
He buckled down and got the newsletter out for Week 3. His tribe was content… for now.
Week 4: Back on it. Now that he knew his cartoon newsletter was not only being read, but also anticipated, he got back onto the newsletter game with more fervor than ever. He worked hard on his craft, working long hours into the night. He was being relied upon now and he promised himself (and them) he wasn’t going to let them down. He started promoting, and sharing, and encouraging others to sign up for the newsletter. The rest? You’re gonna have to join his newsletter to find out.
If you’re an artist, consider starting a newsletter. It’s simply another venue for you to display and disseminate your art, but unlike Facebook and Twitter and those message boards you thought would promote you, direct e-mail is the most likely to be opened and acted upon. If you’re knocking on their door, chances are they’re gonna open up for you. And when they do, I hope you’re standing there with your best art in your hands, ready to share.
P.S. If you want to join Aaron’s newsletter, leave your name and e-mail address below and I’ll pass it along to him!