THE INSPIRATION PLACE PODCAST
Well, hello, this is your host, artist Miriam Schulman, and you’re listening to episode number 48 of The Inspiration Place podcast. And I’m thrilled that you’re here. Today, we’re talking all about my metamorphosis from a stay-at-home mom to a full-time working artist. In this episode, you’ll discover how training as a Pilates instructor gave me the skills to sell art, why it’s hard to create a new identity while you’re still living in the old one. And finally, why selling art is no different than selling anything else and that you can learn these skills.
A few weeks ago, I shared the story about why I left a lucrative Wall Street job after the destruction of 9/11, but I didn’t really explain to you how I made the leap to full-time artist. Because the truth is, changes like that don’t really happen in a day or in an instant. When 9/11 happened, all I knew was that I was not going back to Wall Street, but I really truthfully didn’t know that I was going to be an artist at that time or that I would make it as an artist at the time. Looking at my art career now from the outside or looking back, it may be difficult to see that I was once where you might be right now, or where so many of my listeners are right now. Starting a creative career and transitioning from amateur to professional requires tremendous commitment.
Back then I really didn’t believe that I would or could make a living as an artist. All I knew at that point was that I wasn’t going back to Wall Street and I would figure out what my life purpose was. I definitely was improvising. A few months prior to my giving notice, my grandmother passed away and left me just a modest inheritance. It was just enough that I was able to pay down my mortgage to lower the monthly payment just to take the bite out of it so as not to overburden my husband with that Scarsdale house I had picked out when I thought I was never going to leave my cushy hedge fund job.
And by the way, the hedge fund job that I worked for had pressured us to contribute our bonuses back into their fund. I can’t remember if I shared the name of the company, but for those of you who want to know, it was the infamous hedge fund, LTCM. When the hedge fund went under in 1998, just after my first daughter was born, all those bonuses I had earned were for the most part gone as well. For those of you who don’t know, on Wall Street they tend to pay their employees a lower base salary, and a good portion of our income actually comes at the end of the year in the form of these bonus checks. And even though I did lose my bonus checks like everyone else in my company, I considered myself one of the lucky ones because one of my friends had not only invested all of his bonuses, but he had also convinced his family to invest their funds as well.
Now, when I left my job and decided I wasn’t going to come back, I had no paycheck and I really didn’t have much cash in the bank. And I did not believe I was going to make a living as an artist, so I took a job teaching Pilates at New York Sports Club. This actually made a lot of sense to me. My mother was an exercise teacher when she was a single parent and Pilates was the one thing I had gotten really good at. Before I left my job, I would escape to the local bar class. By the way, this was before anyone knew what a bar class was. It was one of the original Lotte Berk studios in Greenwich, Connecticut, and the owners of the studio ended up moving to California where they rebranded it into the Bar Method, which is actually I believe known nationally. So all those copycats, as well as the Bar Method are pretty much now a household name.
But anyway, I really wanted to teach this bar class stuff and when the owner of the Scarsdale franchise where I was taking my classes was worried I was going to start teaching classes. They kicked me out of the studio and that’s when I got certified to teach Pilates. I just want to talk a little bit about belief systems, because this is what’s so important about this story. So I didn’t believe that I can make a living as an artist, but I did believe that I can make a living as an exercise instructor. Isn’t that interesting? And that’s because I had the example of my mother. Now, I want to put this out there. I want you to see me as an example of what’s possible for you.
If you’re right now doubting that you can make a living as an artist because either you’ve always been told you couldn’t make a living as an artist, or perhaps because you didn’t go to art school, or you just don’t have enough examples around you, I want you to start changing that thinking. I want to be that example for you, and that’s why I also invite so many of my successful artist friends onto the show, so that they can be an example for you too. I want you to start seeing that we are not the exception, that it’s possible.
Now, in case you were wondering, I was painting. I was painting back then. It’s not like I wasn’t painting, but I just was considering it a side joby money, like hobby joby money. I sold a painting here and there at local art fairs and I also started painting my first portraits. But I didn’t really have a marketing plan, I didn’t have an inventory plan, I didn’t have a strategy, and I didn’t have the belief. I was also spending a lot of my time working on developing the Pilates job. And in addition to teaching adults Pilates, I was also teaching creative movement classes to children. So I was using my energy and my creativity towards building that as a career.
So with my two young children, I considered the Pilates my job and I consider the arts still a hobby. When I tell my story, that I left Wall Street to become an artist, I usually skip over this exercise teacher story, and yet this is the one phase that may have been truly critical to my final success as an artist. I’m going to explain why in just a moment, but first, I want to share with you why I was recently reminded of this transitional story.
Right now, my current exercise addiction is this petite class called SLT. It’s a workout favored by celebrities such as Meghan Markle, Lady Gaga, and Michelle Obama. It’s a small group functional training session, which is sort of like bar or Pilates, but it’s way more intense. Honestly, most days at age 50, I’m one of the oldest in the class. Now, the success of a class like this, or really any group exercise class is fully dependent on the teacher. When I signed up for this class, when I commit to my time and I have to prepay for these classes, I want to make sure I reserve my place in class with a teacher that is definitely going to give me my money’s worth.
The best teacher in Westchester is Marcy. Now, and it’s not that the other women aren’t good. And I say that just in case they’re listeners, but the truth is I think they all know that Marcy’s classes have the longest waiting list. They’re really hard to get into. She’s been with this exercise boutique for six years and she manages the three affiliated studios. At least she was, until she quit. Now, when I found out that her last class is on the horizon, it brought me right back to that time when I was the “good Pilates teacher.”
Now, I normally don’t tell this exercise Pilates story, first of all, because it was over 15 years ago, and also 15 pounds ago. But also I don’t like people when I take classes to know that I used to teach because I want them to have low expectations of what I’m going to do there and I don’t want them to get the wrong idea. I’m just there to be a client. I don’t want them to think I’m going to steal their exercise and start teaching it somewhere else. But anyway, after this class, when I learned that Marcy was leaving, I went up to her and I shared my story.
And also, I was really curious about what she was thinking about and what she was planning on doing next.
Now, she admitted to me she did not know what she planned to do next, at least she didn’t share it with me. She said she was ready for change, she needed the space to figure it out. And I wholeheartedly agree with that, because sometimes you really do need to create that vacuum in order to create change. It’s really difficult to find a new identity while you’re still living in the old one. Just like when I was still at my hedge fund job, I was not thinking, “Oh, I should be an artist.” I wasn’t thinking that way. I was fully in that identity. I did know I wanted to spend more time with my children and I did know that I didn’t see the future for me staying there.
But just like caterpillars, sometimes you need to go into a cocoon, you need to find space, you need to create this vacuum for yourself for a while before you into the next stage of your life and become fully that butterfly. So I shared with Marcy, my personal story. I told her how I used to teach Pilates, and it’s funny because she looked really surprised. People who meet me have trouble imagining that I ever would have thought of becoming anything but an artist. And that’s because these days when I introduce myself, I confidently declare myself an artist every time I meet somebody and I own it.
But let’s go back to that moment, 15 years had 15 pounds ago, when I decided not to return to Wall Street and I was teaching Pilates, because like I said, this was a really important step in the transformational journey. I’m going to explain to you why, and you’ll see how important this was and why really a lot of times we do things we don’t know why and everything is meant to be the way it is and nothing is wasted. All right, so back then it was about $40 an hour to work as a Pilates instructor, and that wasn’t quite Wall Street money. But I can rack up a few hundred dollars a week subbing in for all of the New York Sports Clubs in the area. By the way, this was before Facebook, so actually what I had to do is every morning I would check my email for the Yahoo group and people posted if they needed a sub.
So, that money was okay, it kept me going for a while. But let me tell you what really made the difference. It wasn’t a question of this was little money, a lot of money, nothing to do with that. New York Sports Club had this, and I assume they still have it, this really great training program for their employees. Now, if you think a gym makes money off of their memberships, that’s only a small part of the picture. And those of you who join gyms, you probably know this. Think about when you step into a gym what happens. What New York Sports Club understood, and your gym as well, that a lot of the big money comes from the upsells and the add-on services.
So when we got training as Pilates… I got certified someplace else, but then once they hired me, they offered all kinds of training. They were really keen on teaching us how to sell. They trained us on how to sell personal training packages and how to keep customers coming back for more. They talked about how to add on personal touches, whether it was cards for your frequent customers, your frequent students in the class or gifts or little bonuses.
My immediate supervisor, who I remember was a super blonde, super tan, super muscular spin instructor recommended a book to me called The Certifiable Salesperson. And I did include a link to that book in the show notes, which is schulmanart.com/48. And you can find more of my book recommendations at schulmanart.com/bookclub. This is what changed everything. This is when I had my aha moment. It was kind of like when Luke Skywalker figured out how to use the Force, or when Harry Potter discovered he was a wizard. That was when I figured out that these techniques that they were teaching us to close sales on personal training packages and extra Pilates classes, these techniques could be used to sell my art. And I sure as hell would rather be selling my art than Pilates classes.
All right, now I just want to be perfectly clear. It was not this particular book that was the magic bullet. Since reading that book, I’ve dedicated myself to studying the art of marketing. I’m obsessed with it. That is why I read so many books. That is why I’m always having guests on and trying to teach you how to apply these strategies to selling art. Selling art was not something I learned in college, it was nothing I learned in grad school or even during my corporate jobs. And my understanding is that they don’t really teach the art of selling when you go to art school either. The point was that I recognized that selling is a skill and that I could cultivate these skills and these skills could be applied to selling anything. I also recognized that no matter what you’re selling that selling requires work. And if I were going to turn my energy towards selling, I wanted to sell something that I was truly passionate about.
Somewhat conveniently around this time, I also had an emergency appendectomy that kept me out of the Pilates studio. And if that weren’t enough, when I came back from my abdominal surgery, I broke my toe. So the universe really did want to make sure I got the message. “You are not supposed to be doing Pilates.” When 9/11 happened, I saw my former office building burn to the ground, then I did Pilates and I broke my toe, so, universe, I’m listening to you, I’m getting the message.
These skills I learned all those years ago and continue to hone are still the foundations that I use today to sell my art and film my art classes. And these are the same techniques that I teach to my clients. There are really only five fundamentals for building any art business or any creative business, and I want to share this artist success roadmap with you. If you want to grab a pen, you can take notes. If you want to pause right now on your podcast app, just to see what time marker we’re at, this next section is pure gold. So here are the five fundamentals.
First of all, you have to build a body of work. You have to have assets to sell. If you want to make $50,000 a year as an artist, make sure you have 50 paintings that are a thousand dollars each, or you’re not going to get there, or however you want to divide it up. Then you have to find people who want what you’ve got. It’s as simple as that. That’s fundamental number two. So you build a list and you learn how to stay in touch with them. And then number three, you have to price for profit. So, 50 paintings, that’s about a painting a week. If you can’t paint a painting a week, then you might have to charge more. If you are selling your paintings for $500 each, that means you have to make a hundred paintings. You have to find a hundred people to sell to. That’s a lot harder than finding 50 people to sell to. So keep that in mind.
One client I was working with, she shared with me she thought her problem was that she was having trouble finding people to buy her greeting cards. Her business was greeting cards, and she sells her greeting cards for $10 each and she wanted to make $50,000 a year. I said, “Listen, that’s not your problem. You would have to find 5,000 people to sell those greeting cards to at $10 each in order to get to $50,000. So how bout you don’t sell greeting cards? Take that same art, put it on a canvas, make it a painting, sell 50 paintings for a thousand dollars each. That’s how you’re going to get there.” So you have to price for profit.
Then you need to create a sales and marketing plan. So you build a body of work, you make sure it’s priced correctly, you find people who want what you’ve got, you need a sales and marketing plan to show them that you’ve got it. And number five, finally, you need to create systems in your business that organize all of this so that you know what you need to focus on, and when, so you can stop spinning your wheels and stop wasting on things that are just wasting your time. So I’ve shared with you the five fundamentals. And if you want help with all this, if you want to learn my strategies that I’ve spent the last 15 years honing, then I’ve got some really great news for you because I’m offering a limited number of free clarity sessions.
I’ll help you identify your weak spots and create a roadmap just for you. Because by the end of 2019, there’s still time to create a collection that will sell, to create your production plan, to make sure you’re pricing for profit, to build your mailing list with raving fans who love your artwork and create a marketing plan and organize your business with the proper systems. In this episode, I shared my personal journey from stay-at-home mom to working artist, but with a little personal guidance and the right group of people around you, you can do this too.
I’d like to invite you to sign up for my small group coaching program that’s happening this fall 2019. It’s called the Artist Incubator. It’s for people who are just answering the call to turn their side hustle into a thriving business. Weekly coaching calls will make sure you’re making progress you want to make, and I’ll be sharing my strategies on how to sell with you. I’m only allowing about 12 people to join the program and it is by invitation only. So if you’re serious about finally making a career as an artist, apply for one of those free strategy calls. You’ll gain clarity about your goals, where you’re currently at. And if I think that my new program is a good fit for you, you’ll learn more about it.
I’m asking that you apply for these clarity sessions because I don’t have time to help everybody who applies for a session. So just know that when you apply for your session, fill out your application thoroughly and carefully. In addition, if you’re interested in working with me, either one on one or in a small group coaching setting, this is the only way that you can do that. I do not have a sales page on my website as I only want to work with artists who are 100% committed and passionate about building their art business.
So if this sounds like you and you want to apply for one of those free clarity sessions, just go to schulmanart.com/ B-I-Z. All right, that’s all I’ve got for you today. I hope you enjoyed hearing about my story about being a Pilates instructor and how that helps me now in my career as a professional artist. Tune in next week when we’ll be having on artist and illustrator, Lisa Congdon. Her new book, Find Your Artistic Voice is coming out, and I know you’re not going to want to miss this interview. So be sure you subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t all ready. All right, thanks so much for being with me here today. I’ll see you next week, same time, same place, make it a great one. Bye for now.
If you’re interested in hearing how you can earn more for your passion with concrete marketing and business strategies that work, head on over to schulmanart.com/biz. That’s schulmanart.com/ B-I-Z.
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