How I Diversified my Income in a Global Pandemic
This is the story of how I, a freelance creative, switched up everything I was doing to diversify my income to survive the pandemic.
What was I doing before the Pandemic?
I've been a freelance artist since 2008 and went full time self employed in 2011. That story started when I started selling book sculptures on Etsy and was commissioned to produce 4700 pieces for a casino hotel in Atlantic City. It set me up financially for a year, without having to have a 'day job' and lead me to develop my practice so I didn't have to go and find another 'day job'. It worked!
One thing lead to another and I grew my business to becoming established in my field. It was great! I took time off to have a baby and still had a job to go to afterwards. My work was made up of a mixture of commissions, research projects, exhibitions and teaching in the community.
Oh, Hi Covid!
Then 2019 happened. Everything stopped due to Covid and I lost all my income overnight. It was tough. Especially as I was now a single mother, home schooling and thinking (alongside everyone else) how on earth will I survive this?
Meanwhile I had booked The Hearth Arts in Northumberland to run some bookbinding courses and had a fully booked session. Everyone had paid, but I couldn't physically run the course, and with no income I couldn't afford to pay back the money. So I asked the group of they would like to do the course online with a kit posted to them. Luckily nearly everyone said yes! And the people who wanted to do it in person, were happy to wait. I filmed (very badly now I think about it ) a coptic book course in my living room on my phone and uploaded the video to You Tube so they could watch it, posted out the kits and thought that was that. Later I posted photos to my Instagram and a few people got in touch asking if I'd do more.
My First Course
I decided to do a zoom course making a simple origami book I've coined The Ori-Folder Book. 36 people signed up within a week (which was amazing as I only promoted it on Instagram to 1200 followers).
Then in 2020 I decided to launch my first longer course: Introduction to Bookbinding and another 40 people signed up in the first month. I couldn't believe it.
At around this time, I realised that if I was going to make this a sustainable way of making a living, I needed to look at my marketing strategy as my network was still quite small. I had done a few ads on Facebook but really didn't know what I was doing, so I signed up to a course to learn how to do it properly. The course was fantastic and it really opened my eyes to advertising my courses commercially.
As artists, we don't think of ourselves as a business and so therefore don't promote ourselves that way. The first turning point for me was to completely change the way I thought of myself as an artist and myself as a business. Both being one and the same. It really helped that I had a product to sell that wasn't something I'd made, but something that I could offer to other people. I felt like I wasn't promoting myself as much, as I was helping people to try out a new skill.
The second thing I realised quite quickly, was that it was one think having a product and promoting it, and quite another thing having people to buy into it. This involved thinking about who my ideal customer was, where did they shop? And bringing them on the journey with you. This is called a Funnel in advertising speak and looks a bit like this:
Top of Funnel: These are your cold customers, people who haven't heard of you before. You need to find a way to hook them in, perhaps to just follow you on social media so that can get to know you
Middle of Funnel: These customers are your warm audience, they follow you on social media and are more likely to buy one of your products. Here's where you can start to sell your product.
Bottom of Funnel: These are your hot audience, which means they have bought from you before, so you can re-target them to buy something else.
For Facebook ads, you can create different adverts based on where they are in the funnel. So it's not a case of just promoting it, you need to take your customers on a journey.
In 2020 all the shops closed and shopping was solely done online, so everyone who was running facebook ads saw a meteoric rise in sales. By the end of this year I was making 10k plus a month in course sales and I only had 4 courses on my website at the time. It was hot! I was exclusively using Facebook Ads to get to this point and growing my mailing list and social media profiles.
A game changer for me, was switching my email marketing from Mailchimp to Klaviyo. It integrates your Facebook pixel as well as your Website pixel. I use Shopify, so it works from a plug in, to pull all your data together. This is where you can re-target people to what you're talking about each week. Sounds good doesn't it? Keep reading.
Everything changed in April 2021 when Apple released IOS14 and it blocked all the data that Facebook Ads giving you. This meant that the ads weren't working, yet you were still spending hundreds of pounds, but it wasn't reaching your audience. Changes were made on the Facebook Business app and I followed the guidance, but it ended up with me losing hundreds of pounds every month on anything I put into the ads. I easily lost 4/5k in sales. I changed my copy, took new images, launched sales. Nothing was working.
So in November 2021 I killed all of my ads. Which left me with no revenue because I'd poured everything into Facebook and hadn't considered other forms of marketing. It had done so well for me in 2020, I was blinded, alongside so many other small businesses. I had to go back onto Universal Credit.
WTF should I do now?
Killing the ads was the best thing I could have done. Instead, I focussed my energy elsewhere. Specifically using Klaviyo more and growing my Instagram profile. I hit 5000 followers on Instagram before Christmas and since then it keeps growing at a rate of 300 per week. I started being more regular with my mail shots, which work really well for sales and got approved for Instagram Shopping. Since then, sales have grown again. The last 3 months I'm averaging 4-5k in sales and have secured work beyond the internet to cover the slower months. The Facebook Ads course I joined has also decided to shut down and the advice we've been given is that we now need to diversify our marketing into other areas. The best way to do this is to socially scale, the method I spoke about above.
Let's wrap this up
Okay, so we learned a lot of things here. There was a time to survive and that involved going online. By doing this, I grew my socials using Facebook Ads. I used the revenue to buy supplies wholesale, I'd never have been able to do that without having the e-commerce boom. I also grew my audience by 66% and my sales by 70%. I'm not saying don't try Facebook Ads, and if you do I would recommend speaking to an industry expert before you do. The sales for me were great, but the real jewel was growing my audience. They are the thing I can take away from this.
As the world opens up again, I will be working more outside of the online space, but I'll never give it up because there are so many things about it that still work for me. They include:
- Making connections from all over the world
- I teach almost exclusively via pre-recorded video which is far more sustainable than teaching the same class multiple times
- Social Media has connected me to physical projects which wouldn't have happened on any other platform
- I can teach my courses in the physical classroom and provide extra online resources that I've already filmed
- It has opened up my work across the word, whereas before it was exclusively within the UK.
The lesson I would share with the world through this process, is:
Diversify, diversify, diversify.
I'm sharing this journey in a Zoom meet for Culture Northumberland on 10th February. Sign up here.